At Work at Nineteen and Now by James Valvis

I have a photo of me working at nineteen,

fingers almost touching typewriter keys.

Like a handful of vipers poised to strike

but hopelessly suspended and toothless,

I had something to say but no way to say it.

The latter would not come for years.

I needed to be content with being thin,

moderately handsome, earnestly eager.

But I was not content, of course; who is?

I wanted to will myself to greatness.

Already friends frequented bars.

They arrived, told me to stop goofing off.

Serious partying needed to be done.

You couldn’t write what you hadn’t lived.

I said no. I sat over commas studying them

as if a standout story lie wedged in that space

between letters g and h, a piece of fluff

buried that needed extraction.

My mind was the tweezers to do this.

But not for years, too many years,

not until my thin, handsome face vanished.

Gone too were my friends at bars.

Gone nineteen. Gone even eagerness.

Until all that remained were the fingers,

arthritic, incapable of excess, but hovering

over the keys, poised to strike, and striking.


James Valvis has placed poems or stories in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Ploughshares, River Styx, The Sun, Tar River Poetry, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.

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