“Mail Call” by James Valvis

James Valvis


We huddled around the drill sergeant
like kids before a buff Santa 
and waited for our white envelopes.
Night after night nothing came for me.
No girlfriend or wife, family disinterested,
friends floating in the swells of their lives.
Once I thought of writing myself a letter
and sending it in the morning post
to receive it sometime later that week
so recruits would not pat my back in pity
before stumbling to their bunks to read
the happenings of things back home.
After six weeks of this, one man, Barr,
began sharing his wife’s intimate letters,
encouraging me to open them, read them,
smell the patchouli sprayed onto their seal.
It embarrassed me, this making a comrade
a kind of literary cuckold—before
handing the letter back, not having read
her words, only lipped them for his benefit.
But it was like that in the military sometimes.
People shared what could not be shared:
a buckle, a spare bullet at the range,
the last of one’s canteen Kool-Aid,
and sometimes, many years later,
in a far different mail call,
that man’s war death
as the nauseating news arrived
in a plain modest white envelope,
written in that woman’s familiar hand,
smelling of new smoke and old perfume.

from Rattle #61, Fall 2018


James Valvis: “I don’t know why I write. Or why I ever started. It feels a bit like asking a penguin why he eats fish. It’s just what penguins do. Still, I’m an unlikely writer, to say the least, a ghetto kid who preferred baseball to Baudelaire, chess to Chesterton, Whitman’s chocolates to Whitman’s poems. I think I simply had too many stories inside not to let some out—and not enough friends to tell them to. I have this theory writing was invented by introverts who didn’t want extroverts having all the story-telling fun.” (web)

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