At first he was out become his stomach
disagreed with him, then a cold snuck up
on his immune system, mugged it so work
was impossible. Some of us began to count
the days and the illnesses, as they increased
from a month to three months, as he fell ill
with severe allergies that needed operations,
as his entire body was about to rebel
from every kind of plague in the world,
as some people began to fear he’d be left
a head in a jar. Once we needed his absent
expertise, which stopped our projects
dead as if a zombie had eaten their brains.
Now we treat him as a lost ghost, who
sometimes shows up for an hour or two,
promising to finish the document we wanted,
but disappearing the next day, fading
into his afterlife. We wondered if he had leave
left, but obviously he’d stay on the payroll,
no matter what. His office would remain
filled with his stuff, his project calendar
for last year stuck to the wall. Some of us
began to see him as a saint. They prayed
when they wished to skip a long assignment,
said rosaries to his name. Soon, they’d
appear in casts, better off staying at home.
In time the office started to empty out.
Everyone else coughed, about to go home,
ready to call the next day their vanishings.
Donald Illich's work has been published in The Iowa Review, Nimrod, and Cream City Review. To read more by this author: Donald Illich: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue