University of Southern Indiana


James Valvis 

My sister and I drive to the interstate auto station
to see the pickup her husband drove the night before.
Jackie inspects the car, the charred engine shattered
and somehow in the back seat, the hood like crumpled foil.
Not salvageable. The mechanic said that over the phone,
but my sister wanted to come anyway. She needs this,
she says, to see blood staining squares of cobalt blue glass
to believe he’s dead, gone. That this isn’t just a bad dream.
Twenty years old, wasted, he lost control on a curve,
and left a wife and baby daughter. Now I kick flat tires,
wonder at the bent axle, and then, in the pickup’s bed,
I spot what might be brains. I look back at my sister.
Jackie climbs in the cab and holds the steering wheel,
staring straight into the yard at the dust devils swirling,
perhaps imagining him swerving, dying. I look at the brains
stuck to a shard of white skull. I almost smirk, thinking
they’re as good to him there as they were inside his head.
They’re not much, hardly half an inch long, easy to miss,
but my sister can’t see it, I decide, unless I want her to lose
her frail sanity. So I scoop the shard into my shirt pocket
like a sticky coin. A moment later Jackie appears, plodding,
an old lady, gray as a gravestone, and I tell her it’s totaled,
we should go home, there’s nothing here we can save.
She nods, and I help her to my car. We drive off slowly,
merging into traffic, people who could be going anywhere,
or coming from anywhere, except for Jackie’s weeping
and the blood staining my shirt, like I was shot in the heart.


James Valvis is the author of How To Say Goodbye (Aortic Books, 2011). He has published hundreds of poems in places like Anderbo, Arts & Letters, New York Quarterly, Poetry East, Rattle, River Styx, and Verse Daily. His fiction is also widely published in places like Los Angeles Review, Potomac Review, storySouth, and Washington Pastime. Valvis lives near Seattle with his wife and daughter.


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