Donald Illich’s work has appeared in Iowa Review, Nimrod, LIT, Passages North, and Sixth Finch. Chance Bodies was published in 2018. Love Poems on Bar Napkins is his most recent book.

The Ocean Thief

I wrote about the remains of the ocean, how it puddled the Earth
like a sidewalk after a rainstorm. It was impossible to find out
who drained it, took its essence away. We weren’t sure
who needed an ocean with colorful fish, monstrous whales,

octopi and squid. A Bond villain might kidnap the ocean,
demand billions for its return. We’d received no ransom notice,
no Zoom transmission from a bad guy. Maybe the person
who took the ocean was saving it from us pouring plastic.

Or staining oil in its clear water. Right now, the sea recovered
in some secret place we won’t find. Or maybe this was a lark,
someone seizing the ocean to prank a planet. They’ll return it
if we say pretty please with sugar on top. I won’t say those words.

Better loss than humiliation. The thief will get tired of the “toy,”
leave the ocean lying for anyone to pick up. I’ll be there
to sling it inside my bag, full of worlds that are and will be.

©Donald Illich 2024

Sharon North is a former management consultant and retired AID foreign service spouse who served in Kenya, Sudan, Mozambique, El Salvador, and Russia. She lives in McLean, Virginia, and is writing a memoir of her experiences living and raising children overseas. In her free time, she sings and studies acoustic guitar.

Shelter from the Storm

The summer the cat came was a pressure cooker. It was 1963, before air-conditioning, and the flat Midwest roasted under hot sun and heavy clouds— days that inspired rash acts like speeding in convertibles and jumping into nearby bodies of water fully clothed.

I was three years old, and Grandma and Grandpa’s sunken back porch was my world. Under the porch roof, in an oasis from the relentless summer rays, I played alone on a cushioned glider. My little sister napped in a baby carriage nearby. She sprawled like a kitten, liquid and relaxed. In the corner, a box fan struggled to move the air.

My head was full of words and sounds. “Don’t touch the fan! It’ll cut off your finger!”  Mayflies hummed from under the oak leaves in the yard. Bees buzzed. Melting tar crackled atop asphalt. By late afternoon, mosquitos whined, cloud collisions rumbled and eerie, heat lightning strobed. The threat of tornados lurked: deadly, yellow-green dervishes.

I yearned to cling to Mom when there was a storm coming. To ask her where Daddy was. But she was gone all day earning rent and saving for her college tuition. Grandma babysat us and did the housework. I was learning not to ask her where my father was. “That cad left you girls and your mother!” Grandpa worked second shift at the steel mill, or slept from working third the night before.

Mom brought good thunderstorms home with her from work. She and I watched lightning strafe the neighborhood, wind dislocate tree boughs, and sheets of rain whip fronds and petals in the garden. Once the storms passed, and I’d been tucked upstairs in my attic bed, the rustle of textbooks and the faint clink of a coffee cup told me Mom was now studying at the dining room table below.


A stray cat slipped onto the porch one steamy day, and laid down in the far corner. She was thin everywhere but her belly. Grandma brought out a cardboard box with some old towels inside.

I watched that box. After a few days nesting, the cat sprang from the box and onto the glider beside me. “Let the mama kitty touch you first,” Grandma warned. I held my breath as the cat glided alongside my leg, purring. The cat settled next to me, and closed her eyes. I looked to Grandma. Together, my tiny hand and her gnarled palm blanketed the furry body.

After the kittens were born their mother disappeared. The little scraps of fur mewed pathetically, so Grandma helped me feed them milk from doll bottles. On Mom’s day off, the mother cat returned with her eye clawed open, and an ear torn off. I wailed.

Mom didn’t try to comfort me.

The tom cat hadn’t shown his face. Not even to check on his babies. That neglect pierced my heart. “Mommy, why doesn’t the daddy come?” Why doesn’t daddy come?

“Oh, honey. I’m sure that’s a long story.” Mom brushed a tear from the corner of her eye, careful not to smudge her mascara. She squeezed me tight between her freckled arm and the front of her starched cotton blouse.

©Sharon North 2024


JOIN US to celebrate AGUAS/WATERS by Miguel Avero and translated by Jona Colson. In July, Miguel Avero will be traveling to Washington, DC for readings at Politics & Prose (July 12 at the main store); The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore (Happy Hour on Saturday, July 13), and at the Writer’s Center (on Sunday, July 14). Please join us! More information here. And a big shout out to Andrew S. Klein for designing the evocative cover!

SUBMIT to WWPH Writes. We are reading now for our FALL issues. We are eager for new voices! We are an inclusive, writer-driven community and want to see your poetry and prose (1,000 words or less). Free to submit. Send us your work via our Submittable link here. Insider news: we are planning our annual WWPH PRIDE contest with cash prizes and publication. This year, PRIDE will have a special call for allies of the LGBTQ+ community. Look for the WWPH PRIDE Poetry & Prose contest to open on June 1-15th. And for those asking about our annual TINY POEMS special summer issues–yes, they are returning in August! Insider news: we will be seeking tiny odes! Keep reading WWPH Writes for details.