Matthea Harvey

Ideas Go Only So Far

Last year I made up a baby. I made her in the shape of a hatbox or a cake. I could have iced her & no one would have been the wiser. You know how trained elephants will step onto a little round platform, cramming all four fat feet together? That’s her too, & the fez on the elephant’s head. Applause all around. There was no denying I had made a good baby. I gave her a sweet face, a pair of pretty eyes, & a secret trait at her christening. I set her on my desk, face up, and waited. I watched her like a clock. I didn’t coo at her though. She wasn’t that kind of baby.


She never got any bigger, but she did learn to roll. Her little flat face went round and round. On her other side, her not-face rolled round and round too. She followed me everywhere.  When I swam, she floated in the swimming pool, a platter for the sun. When I read, she was my peacefully blinking footstool. She fit so perfectly into the washing machine that perhaps I washed her more than necessary. But it was wonderful to watch her eyes slitted against the suds, a stray red sock swishing about her face like the tongue of some large animal.


When you make up a good baby, other people will want one too. Who’s to say that I’m the only one who deserves a dear little machine-washable ever-so-presentable baby. Not me. So I made a batch. But they weren’t exactly like her—they were smaller & without any inborn dread. Sometimes I see one rolling past my window at sunset—quite unlike my baby, who like any good idea, eventually ended up dead.



“Ideas Go Only So Far” is reprinted from Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf, 2004).