Green Hills Literary Lantern



We've Never Had Paris



We had Jersey City, dark shadow

of New York, with its fractured faces

on injured streets, its blinking

yellow traffic light jaundiced eye,

with snow piled an inch thick

on telephone wires, a pair of sneakers

strung up like the rest of the body

(hung there by some despotic army)

had been eaten away by rats and ravens.

We never had Paris, we never had it,

just the cool damp empty cellars

where the pictures in plastic

turned greener by the hour, minutes

glued together like one moment

could not stand separating from others.

Beyond the punk plants, trains

wept for all the places we'd never go,

marched back and forth like an army

always forgetting its guns, or a man

who goes nowhere but home and work,

home and work, like my father.

We never had Paris, unless you counted

the corner bar that was on the way,

the woodshops, empty shells

of Chevrolets decomposing on Danforth.

Here and there someone smiled,

and their faces hurt for months.

They learned to glance sideways

and brown grass pushed through

rusted iron chain-linked fences.

When night came, the Hudson

was more stain than Seine,

Styrofoam cup fish floating belly up

while the inky tide punched the shore,

and, as all the lights went out suddenly,

the lady of Ellis Island, French to the end,

flipped us off as she walked east

to drown herself in the Atlantic.



James Valvis has placed poems or stories in Ploughshares, River Styx, Arts & Letters, Southern Indiana Review, Nimrod, Louisville Review, The Sun, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily and Best American Poetry 2017. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Best of the Net, won 2nd Place in Folio's Editor's Prize, and was a finalist for Best Small Fictions 2017. His work has also been a finalist for the Asimov's Readers' Award. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.