James Valvis

Every day the freight trains

that ran behind our house

filled the rooms with noise

so loud we stopped talking,

paused in the center of sentences,

waiting to go on. We all did this,

even my father, drunk and slurring,

when he told us we had to choose

who we’d live with, our mother

or him, knowing we’d choose

Mom, but hoping against sense

we wouldn’t. The train rumbled by

as he lifted his drink and waited

to finish telling us to choose.

Later, when we chose our mother,

he wept, pouring himself

another drink, sitting there

until a new train chugged by,

so thunderous the windows shook,

as my father lifted his glass

to toast its regular arrival,

its fast, predestined leaving.

James Valvis

In through that door walked Uncle Teddy.

In through that door danced Aunt Edna.

My mother left through that door

and my father, drunk, tottered through it.

Mornings that door was the first I touched

and the last I touched in the evening.

All my relatives entered that door.

Every friend too, can you believe it?

We lived on the second of three floors.

We had no chimney, the windows were high.

If Santa came, then he came through that door.

Easter Bunny too. When Jesus returned

to whisk us to heaven, he’d hover

with miracle sandals through that door.

News back then didn’t come over the phone,

or the internet, when someone died

kin crashed through that door to tell us.

One day when I was five I walked in that door

and one day I was fourteen and walked out.

We moved. We moved and left that door behind.

Yet I remember running through the apartment

to answer a knock, my hand on the cool knob,

feeling like I need only twist open that door

and the whole mystery of the world

would reveal itself and be mine forever.

That was a long time ago. Ages and ages.

Uncle Teddy dead. Aunt Edna dead. Dad too.

Mom barely holds on in a small trailer in Florida.

I haven’t seen that door now in almost thirty years.

Now some stranger is closing that door.

Now someone I never met is locking it.

James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). His writing can be found in Arts & Letters, Atlanta Review, LA Review, Praxilla, Rattle, River Styx, and is forthcoming in Crab Creek Review, Drunken Boat, Hanging Loose, New York Quarterly, Slipstream, and others. His poetry has been featured at Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry blog. His fiction has twice been a storySouth Million Writers Notable Story. He lives near Seattle with his wife and daughter.

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