A Book of Poetry for the Summer and Always

Seriously, I don’t know how to write a review but I wish I did.  I would review “How to Say Goodbye” by James Valvis in a way that would have you running to your favorite independent bookstore to buy two copies.

One of the jacket blurbs says:

“Finely crafted, keenly observed, and often laugh-out-loud funny, James Valvis’ poetry shows an artistic integrity that is deeply moving.  His poems are smart, but never smart-aleck; personal but never self-absorbed; witty, but never flippant.  His voice will stay with you long after you close the book.  Valvis is the real thing.”

     Laura Orem, featured writer, The Best American Poetry Blog

My two cents…I was featuring a few months ago.  You know how that is, you have 20 minutes in the middle of an open mic to read a lot more poems than anyone else gets to.  I never read more than 11.  14 minutes with time for (hopefully) applause and a little chatting in-between.

I am a selfish-selfish featured poet.  I want to read 11 of MY OWN poems.  But I had just received this book.  I emailed James and asked him for permission to open with one of his poems (and yes, everyone thinks I’m an idiot for asking permission).  Not only did I open with one, but I closed with one as well.  And my feature was the richer for it.


I opened with:


In her apartment on Romaine Avenue,
the one with the roaches,
my grandmother tied one end of a string
to a busted cabinet
and the other to the rusted window latch,
and from this string
hung a dozen or more tea bags,
clipped with dirty wooden clothespins.
Seven times each tea bag
journeyed from cup to string to cup,
until finally no further color or flavor
could be crushed from it.
Sometimes now when making tea,
holding the once-used bag over the trash,
I pause a moment
and remember my grandmother
and those used tea bags
hanging like bats over her head
as they dripped brown drops of guano
on to the ripped linoleum floor.


I closed with:

About Your Iguana

You would be on vacation for two weeks
and asked me to look after your iguana.

You offered to pay, but I refused;
it was just something friends should

do for each other.  It was right about
Christmas and the Chicago cold jumped

and mugged everyone, except me.
I was in the middle of my first love

affair in three years.  It was Friday
when I walked into your room to feed it

and give it water, and I found it
sitting on your window sill, but

when I put the lettuce down it didn’t
move, not one foot, not one arm, just

stared out the window staring at nothing.
I picked it up, and it was cold and stiff.

It had been days since I checked on
your iguana.  I think I love the girl.

Then I noticed the room was freezing
and it dawned on me that lizards are

from hot climates, and then I thought,
Oh, Jesus, I killed the fucking thing.

I carried it to the bathroom, rubbing
its body as if my hands held a magic

that might save it.  I heard it breathe,
but that was only air escaping its lungs.

I put your poor iguana, your dead iguana,
your hopeless poor dead fucking iguana,

into the tub.  I just couldn’t face it,
so I walked back to my room and cried,

and then I laughed, and then I cried,
and if you’re reading this, my friend,

that’s how I want you to think about me,
sitting on my bed crying, laughing,

walking back to your room to see if
your lizard returned from the abyss,

more fool than murderer.


Please please please, even if you hate me, you’ll love this book.

How to Say Goodbye
James Valvis
Published by Aortic Books
ISBN 978-0-9787983-3-8


Tobi Cogswell is a two-time Pushcart nominee.  She is the co-publisher and co-editor of San Pedro River Review, www.sprreview.com