I’ve been ill-used, no other word will do;
pristinely packaged, sanitised and new
a month ago I stood upon display
till someone paid to carry me away.

Once home, he placed me in a cup whose rim
was chipped and whose interior was grim.
Upon a shelf, inside his smallest room,
I stayed, alone, to contemplate my doom.

Next morning he adorned my head with gel—
my bristles had a fresh and minty smell.
But then he raised me up into his mouth
and brushed from east to west, from north to south.

I rubbed against decaying slabs of brown,
deep cavities, raw gums, a tarnished crown,
till finally he scrubbed his furry tongue,
an organ as malodorous as dung.

Each morning since, I’ve gagged upon his breath,
that rancid cavern’s stench is worse than Death,
with plaque and gummed up lips that dribble goo;
I’ve been ill-used, no other word will do.


Poet’s Note: In the Inter-Board Poetry Competition (IBPC) of August, 2017, Ill-Used scored 2nd place. It was also the only poem singled out for an honourable mention that year after the three poems of the year were announced. 



Paul A. Freeman is the author of Rumours of Ophir, a crime novel which was taught in Zimbabwean high schools and has been translated into German. In addition to having two novels, a children’s book and an 18,000-word narrative poem (Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers!) commercially published, Paul is the author of hundreds of published short stories, poems and articles.

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18 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    Very funny and clever, Paul. This ditty fully deserved the accolades you mention. But I have to say, that toothbrush got off with a light sentence: with a conscientious brusher it would have been in use not just in the morning, but noon and night as well. Thanks!

    • Paul Freeman

      Ah, but would a conscientious brusher have been such and ordeal?

      Thanks for reading, Julian.

  2. Talbot Hook

    Not to mention the afterlife of some toothbrushes as sink and toilet-bowl cleaners . . .

    Thanks for the fun read.

  3. Brian Yapko

    A very enjoyable, clever poem, Paul. But it sure makes me glad I use an electric toothbrush!

    • Paul Freeman

      Thank you, Brian. So you give your toothbrush the electric shock treatment? Hmmm!

      Thanks for reading.

    • Paul Freeman

      These days we don’t get to see a dentist’s smile, but I’ll take your word for it.

      Thanks for reading, David.

  4. Roy E. Peterson

    I had to laugh at this one from the start. What an unusual concept that you sustained with five visual verses! I enjoyed the nuances provided like furry tongue, and smells.

    • Paul Freeman

      Thanks for the comment, Roy.

      For the life of me, I can’t recall where the idea for this one came from – but I’m so glad, from the poem’s reception, that the idea did come.

  5. Norma Pain

    Paul, this is so clever… who would have thought… a toothbrush’s experience of that after-meal mess to deal with! So enjoyable. Thank you.


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