“The Escape Artists” by Donald Illich

Donald Illich


Why was there more than one of us?
Because it was more shocking

when we both exploded from the safe,
unharmed if short of breath,

dressed in sparkling blue uniforms
to signify our amazing natures.

Other times we’d plunge into water
in chains, stay in the icy deep

for several minutes beyond
what we should’ve been capable of.

When we emerged it was like exiting
the underworld, coming across as fallen

angels who didn’t need anything
on this earth, much less the applause

that avalanched over us. They didn’t
see the tricks we had developed,

the broken links, hidden keys,
the practice of bending, pulling muscles.

Why would they imagine this hard work
when their life is about not enduring

pain or danger? Sitting at desks
they quit if they feel eye strain

from staring at the computer screen,
would rather drop change

in a vending machine than walk
to the fridge for a carrot or orange.

We suffer so you don’t have to,
is what we think. As an example

of near drowning we are the sacrifice
you won’t have to make now,

to short circuit your life with big flashes
of lightning, risks that could suffocate

you if you guess wrong. To us,
the important thing is the process—

the lack of oxygen, choking on water.
This is where we’re alive—not

when you salute us, but when we
praise ourselves with deaths you can’t see.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011

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