by Thomas Davis
I was seven years old.
Mom insisted I was too sick to play an old man in a fake gray beard,
but I had worked hard to memorize my school play’s lines.
I was so sick I could hardly get out of bed.
I got up anyway, dressed in old man clothes
Mom had stitched out of Dad’s cast-off pants and shirts
and walked out of the house through darkened streets to Delta Elementary.
Back stage I half fainted when I saw
the auditorium packed with kids, parents, and grandparents.
Other kids and our teacher just accepted that I was there.
Feverish, I feverishly repeated lines over and over in my head
and fought my stomach’s queasiness.
Then the play about pioneering, wagon trains, and wilderness began.
When my turn came I walked teetering, the way I was supposed to, on stage.
My Mom had no idea where I was.
An old man, I sat on a stool covered with a painted cardboard stump,
voice quavering as if I was sixty years old and not just sick.
When I finished the audience broke into thundering applause.
I bowed quickly, went off-stage, down ancient wooden stairs,
and went outside where the Milky Way flowed light toward the horizon.