Chopping Wood with My Father

by James Valvis

He never minded labor, only people,
the work easy, even when difficult,
when it murdered his back and eyes.
He understood pain, the private agony
of a dirty toilet, existentialism of mornings
pumping gas or grinding auto parts
so their welding no longer showed seams.
For him, the worst jobs were tolerable
without co-workers, customers, bosses,
and bullies, without old girlfriends
seeing him behind the counter
at the burger joint years after school,
without the union yelling about
dues he couldn’t pay, without
inferiors quitting for better pay.
Nothing ever makes sense in this life,
he’d tell me after drinking a sea of rum,
but the people make least sense of all.
You would think the ones cleaning toilets
or taking out the trash or washing dishes
would be the ones folks are nicest to.
Instead it’s always the other kind.
It’s those who have the easiest labor
who stand there fifteen minutes
yelling at a mechanic for a busted pump.
He’d say this and then tell me to go away
so he could sip his shrunken head alone.
For my father, it was always the people
who made work unfulfilling, sad,
so even a workaholic like him
quit one day and moved south
to a property with little but scrub oak,
fifty miles from anywhere civilized,
where he could chop wood all day
until his hands bled and shook
in the scorching and pitiless sun,
annoyed only I stood there with him
and sometimes complained about the heat.


James Valvis has placed poems or stories in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Ploughshares, River Styx, Tampa Review, Tar River Poetry, The Sun, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily. His fiction was chosen for the 2013 Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.

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