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by James Valvis

  • Dad couldn’t say the letter h,
  • and said instead: haitch.
  • Once he brought me
  • to the Welfare office
  • where that lady secretary
  • watched us over her glasses.
  • I could not meet her eyes,
  • turned instead to my father,
  • who was filling out forms,
  • his hand falling through
  • the nooses in his name.
  • The lady made him spell
  • his illegible name aloud
  • in front of everyone.
  • He stalled, the room
  • hemmed in, then started.
  • Out came: J, O, haitch, N.
  • Someone in line snickered.
  • Others smirked. Despair
  • lengthened like a shadow
  • over us, the poor so poor
  • we couldn’t even afford
  • real letters, whose letter h
  • was like our collective lives:
  • one part hate, one part ache.

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