June 17-July 1, 2001: Ben Shepard and James Valvis

week of June 17-July 1, 2001

Ben Shepard and James Valvis


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Ben Shepard

Bio (auto)

I’m 16 year old who lives in Washington D.C, who abhors misanthropy, loves the human species in all of its terrible glory, and writes poetry in a futile attempt to counter the onslaught of angsty teenage poetry.

The following work is Copyright © 2001, and owned by Ben Shepard and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsover without written permission from the author.

The Marriage Cycle:
4 short poems

The Bowling Alley

Once before, but slowly,
we touched lips in the bowling alley While a child’s ball fell into the gutter,
your hand slipped into mine,
and something worked
My breath, the long greased fries and coc-cola
and your own, some long-held strawberry passion,
became one, and one for that night

And my eyes looked into yours,
just as the man without eyebrows got a spare,
and we kissed again

Wedding Day Shrimp

my wedding day, so many cocktail parties ago,
is a martini haze, with a canned olive sun
but something harks out of the past’s mist

it is a shrimp
a blue veined crustacean
elegant from 25 year’s memory

and yes, slowly enough, the fate of the shrimp,
it was left unharmed!
freed from the jaws of our oppression,
it sat in the ice,
as my wife waltzed with her father,
and I wondered what the future would be like
and then, she came over, touched my cheek,
and I knew something would be all right

Lemonade in our first few days

we would sit in the rocking chairs
those ones we bought in North Carolina
when we escaped maryland snow for southern fog,
but we stumbed onto an antique stor
with an armless proprietor and bought 2 chairs

and in those chairs, on burnt and wet summer days,
we sat and sat with lemonade in our hands
and commented that the sun was soft in the sky


three small destiny encrusted babies,
the time bombs of our history
who drove us into mid-marriage:
and took 7 hours off the free week

each birth, touched apart by 9 rainy months
within and alone, we raised them like small fruit,
and shifted apart in the orchard
each moment of our breathy gasps were interrupted
by some terrible burp, heartbreak or injury
and so time spoke

slowly told us to go into the desert
not to reap anything but
these sour figs of alimony

and those three children, alone in our freedom
looked forward to their own failures,
while we sit in the dust and become the dust
and we are nothing but the dust

I eat
I eat captain crunch on Tuesday mornings,
When the sun is a little fried egg out the window
Melting yolk between the evergreens,
And the sports page is laid over the editorials,
None of them getting read by my crunch-berry soul
Because, instead of George Will on baseball and politics
I think about that place between love and bad poetry,
Ophelia and Hamlet killing in the parking lot of a Hallmark It isn’t pleasent, but once in a while, one must think of love
But, the thought fades, as some cereal becomes encrusted in my tooth And I wish that love had never been invented to think about

James Valvis

Bio (auto)

James Valvis was born in New Jersey in 1969 A veteran of the United States Army, he was awarded the Army Achievement Medal for excellence in job performance and the National Defense Ribbon for his service during the Gulf War He was honorably discharged in 1993 His first poem was accepted in 1992 and he has since published hundreds of poems and short stories in scores of print and online literary magazines He is a cofounder of Gainesville&Mac226;s Poets & Writers, a workshop for writers, serving as its president for four years A Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of three published chapbooks of poetry and one book of short stories, his poems and stories continue to appear in literary journals around the nation His novel “The Second Husband” is now in the hands of his agent He lives in Issaquah, Washington with his girlfriend, the poet and editor (a small garlic press) Katrina Grace Craig, and their daughter, Sophia He’s working on his second novel.

The following work is Copyright © 2001, and owned by James Valvis and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsover without written permission from the author.


Medusa is now 3000 years old, lives
in a duplex in Seattle, and works
for Boeing as a junior receptionist,
a job that renders her nearly invisible She wears a latex mask, just in case,
spending two hours every morning
getting it right, another hour working
on her hair Not snakes, but black strands
that have started to gray at the roots Still, she thinks she’s attractive for her age,
keeps in shape by jogging 5 miles a day
on her treadmill She pumps free weights,
takes vitamins, invests in skincare products Yes, she has a body that balks a man’s eye,
but she doesn’t like her face She faults
the latex, thinks it gives her the appearance
of indifference, cold-hearted bitchiness No laughter, no sorrow, nothing human
can leak through Sometimes, late at night
on those rare evenings when she’s alone,
she rips off the mask, the rubber nose,
the plastic lips, and gazes into the mirror She has an ordinary face, plain as any other,
hardly the monster the Greeks believed And how would they know anyway?
The men she tried to show her face
stood frozen, then ran away without
uttering a word, as if she had spoken
with food in her mouth or said something
that made her appear smart and alive She wonders, at the mirror, if every women
is not like her Putting on the rubber face
in the mornings, tearing it off at night,
worried if a man sees her he’ll change
before her eyes, become cold, distant, rock,
and leave her lonely and alone, instead of
just lonely It doesn’t matter, she tells herself If in 3000 years no man has wanted
to see her, what good is it to argue now?
So she keeps her mouth shut, hides behind
her mask, and trades passion for civility,
love for cold hard sex, and the only person
she turns to stone these days is herself.

Love Between Men

Two men stand by the river,
Holding hands Neither has ever
Done this before A cooler
Filled with beer cans sits nearby The men look out toward the water One is an executive, the other
Has a wife and three children They have been holding hands
An hour Neither wants to be
The one to let go Neither
Will ever get this chance again Not in this world, not in this life They have been talking right along,
About art, about their families,
And about their stressful jobs Neither took the other’s hand They both did it, at the same time The executive bends down, opens
The cooler, and pops a can
With one hand He takes a sip,
Offers the other man the beer They go on like this another hour Two men standing by the river,
Holding hands Then their hands
Part Neither man lets go alone,
They do it together They go home The executive to an empty apartment,
The other to his wife and children One of the men goes straight to bed,
The other, the man with the kids,
Lingers awhile outside to smoke
A cigarette He remembers
The sweaty palm of the other man,
The tight grip, and most galling of all
The way the executive all but
Raped him He crushes his cigarette
Underfoot, decides tomorrow
He’ll shoot that faggot dead.


Imagine a world where everything is consigned
to the red pen Imagine walking into a speakeasy,

1920’s style, where instead of being given a shot
of whiskey you are given a rubber eraser and a book

by Dale Carnegie Pour over your life, change
what needs sprucing up, add a detail here, omit

all the corny adjectives, fool around with the verbs
so that you do not lust after your pregnant landlady
Imagine slavery tucked in some corner of your
hard drive, the holocaust a bunch of crinkled up

and tossed three pointers The attraction is undeniable A crippled marriage, years of idleness, all those cigarettes,

Delete them and move on And while you’re at it, maybe
add a little spice to those good times Those dull women

You groped in the dark, now vibrant, large-breasted,
and gone by morning The men more heroic, daring,

their conversations less hampered by a deathly ennui What art we could make of our lives, what a masterpiece

We could make of the world We and our red pens,
our second sight, our craftsman’s approach to life
But not so fast, dear editor, not so fast Stay that pen
a moment and listen For over there, in the speakeasy,

ee see our former loves scribbling tiresome drafts,
ee see our own mothers erasing our fathers, ourselves,

ee see a man with skin cancer blotting out the sun And art, what is art if not the recorded mistakes

of a lifetime, recollected honestly and transcribed Art cannot exist in a perfect world; there is no

Picasso in heaven, no Shakespeare in Eden,
and all our artists are listed in hell’s ledger,

burn hotter and brighter than all the others Listen: the forward motion of life is what we have,

the grievous error our only source, the indignity
of life our sole working tool And if, from time

to time, we edit, we revise with this in mind:
to make our mistakes ever clearer, ever truer,

as if we carefully planned them all the while.

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