James Valvis


Like young Ishmael, I thought I was ready for the sea.
I argued with my father for abusing my mother,
and he didn’t waste time throwing me out.
For some hours I let myself think I was a hero.
Now all that remained of that notion
was an old rusted Ford Thunderbird
that maybe wouldn’t turn over
next time I twisted the ignition.
I parked in the Pic-N-Save,
far from the lights as possible,
and dropped the driver’s seat back
into bags bloated with dirty clothes.
I looked up at the Thunderbird’s roof,
then back out the window at the expansive lot,
light turning concrete yellow as a Spanish dragoon.
Finally, I closed my eyes and tried not to think.
Here’s something only the homeless know:
there isn’t any honor in it and no thrill,
and having sunk so low, this time,
you can’t unsink yourself, like people
after a shipwreck, heads bobbing in swells,
too tired to swim, cannot rescue themselves,
can only try to hold on until help arrives.
Having fought another person’s white whale,
and having learned the whale always wins,
I cleaved to that old and worthless Thunderbird
like Ishmael clung to Queequeg’s coffin,
as all around me the concrete’s gray waves
swallowed every errant harpoon of light.

James Valvis

is the author of a full-length poetry collection and two chapbooks. He has contributed to Ploughshares, River StyxArts and Letters, Barrow Street, The Sun, and other journals and has been included in Best American Poetry and Best of the Net. A former U.S. Army soldier, he lives in the Seattle area.