Green Hills Literary Lantern



Shooting the M16 Rifle at the Range


Standing in the foxhole, the 75B,

or Personnel Administration Specialist,

rests his left hand flat on the sandbag,

then sets the rifle upon it like a toy bat.

He tucks the butt into his shoulder,

his right hand forefinger touches trigger,

thumb on the safety, right eye lining up the sight

with the mound where the target will appear,

he steadies his breath, and the wind dies,

like something being kicked in the gut,

as if the air somehow knows

it will soon be raped by .22 caliber bullets

that spin more than fly so they will tear flesh.

And if the shot is true, if the breathing

pauses at the right moment and the trigger

is squeezed not pulled, the short, white silhouette

will drop back where it came from

and another will rise, this one at 300 meters,

then another at 150 meters, and another,

so the feeling is given there is no end

to enemy soldiers who will spring forward.

Fire true 23 times out of 40 and the army

will not make him do this again

for another year, and he can return

to pretending this career of filing papers,

data entry, and stamping Leave forms,

this dull work of administration,

isn’t always about killing.








The Evil of Banality


Earlier today I cleaned the kitchen,

managed to load the dishwasher

and wipe a couple of the counters,

but left the floor unswept, unmopped.

Then, tired, I retired to the bedroom

for some reading. Don’t get excited.

It wasn’t Plato. It was a category mystery,

a series I started twenty-five years ago

and have kept reading out of habit,

though the lawyer-detective annoys me.

After that, I fed the cat. Hannah Arendt

famously talked about the banality of evil,

but left it to others to talk about the evil

of banality. Once, on the eve of war,

I joined the US army, but then they called

a brief hiatus to the slaughter, so I quit.

Now I set the book aside, dragged out the trash,

and studied my failing container garden.

Once I was a boy, standing strong

against bullies. After the garden,

I ran the vacuum, but didn’t bother

moving furniture. Once I almost died

for love, held a bailsong to my wrist,

but decided it gave her too much victory.

Oh, how she would have wept in public,

and privately rejoiced at her own greatness

for having destroyed me. After vacuuming,

I thought about crying more, but didn’t.

The tragedy of surviving is it washes

all of the tragedy from your death,

I thought, and started a load of whites.





James Valvis is the author of How to Say Goodbye (Aortic Books, 2011). His poems or stories have appeared in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Hanging Loose, Natural Bridge, Rattle, River Styx, The Sun, and many others. His poetry has been featured in Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction was chosen for the 2013 Sundress Best of the Net. In 2014 he was awarded a King County 4Culture Grant for the Arts. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.