by James Valvis

Dad couldn’t say the letter h,
and said instead: haitch.
Once he brought me
to the Welfare office
where that lady secretary
watched us over her glasses.
I could not meet her eyes,
turned instead to my father,
who was filling out forms,
his hand falling through
the nooses in his name.
The lady made him spell
his illegible name aloud
in front of everyone.
He stalled, the room
hemmed in, then started.
Out came: J, O, haitch, N.
Someone in line snickered.
Others smirked. Despair
lengthened like a shadow
over us, the poor so poor
we couldn’t even afford
real letters, whose letter h
was like our collective lives:
one part hate, one part ache.


James Valvis is the author of How to Say Goodbye (Aortic Books, 2011). He has published hundreds of poems in places like Anderbo, Atlanta Review, Confrontation, Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East, Rattle, River Styx, and South Carolina Review. Poems have been featured on Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry blog. His literary prose is also widely published in places like Fractured West, Los Angeles Review, Potomac Review, storySouth, and Superstition Review. Lest somebody start mistaking him for a serious artist, he also publishes science fiction and mystery stories. A former soldier in the US Army, he lives in Issaquah, Washington, with his wife, daughter, and toy robots.