James Valvis has placed poems or stories in Ploughshares, Whiskey Island Magazine, Southern Indiana Review, Louisville Review, The Sun, and hundreds of other journals. His poetry was selected for Best American Poetry 2017. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Best of the Net and won 2nd Place in Folio’s Editor’s Prize. His work has also come in 2nd for the Asimov’s Readers’ Award. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.
You look at email and noticed 98% of the correspondence
ends abruptly with you saying the last thing.
That can mean a lot of things, none of them great.
Something about you, you suppose, wears people out,
makes them go after others who demand less.
Perhaps it appears needy when you receive a one-line note
telling you they kinda-sorta liked that one poem
they’ve forgotten the name to, though it had to do with hair,
and you write sixteen long paragraphs thanking them
like some character in a Turgenev short story,
where almost no one can stop talking for his own good,
and you try to work out which poem, because you’re curious,
and besides you’ve written a lot of poems about hair.
You wouldn’t mind sending them a complete list of first lines
to let them choose, so that you could at last know
which of your poem has struck home.
It might be fun, you say, like a mystery character
picking the right culprit from a police lineup,
though of course it will be a poem and not a predator.
Well, the response never comes, though you wait and wait
until one day darkens into the next, the shadows
of the bookshelf lengthening on the wall; weeks pass,
always the same shadow from the same lonely bookshelf,
until you decide from now on you’ll answer every letter
with a terse “Thanks,” like everyone else in this stingy time
when everyone’s into spreading the wealth
but not very many are into spreading the words,
unless those words will make them money or famous,
and what good are the eyes of one person for that?
But of course you can never keep the resolution long.
In fact, the next time someone writes to ask how’s things
there you are again talking about the pain in your back,
the problem with various economic systems,
that time you made love to that girl in her mother’s van,
and your need to move the bookshelf away from the window.