John Valentine

Ghost Ship | Rip Tide

The Dead Sea | Claustrophobia

Inquisition | Heaven | Reel

Ghost Ship

Far out, past the tidal pools,
amid the undertow

of memory, even black lagoons
of failure, I see you at the

rail, your hopeful face turned
to the winds of change. You

cannot see me, the possibility
of dream and desire.

You’re younger, stronger, a lean
cut of a man in sunshine

and shadow. I remember. I felt
those strong hands once,

arms lifting in joy, sometimes
in surrender. No curve

of clarity now, only mist, a sense
of someone there, someone

close. Perhaps a picture, water—
stained, blurred, a ghost

looking forward. You seem to be
waving, as if you know the sea

and everything to come.

Rip Tide

Not being one to put much stock in beliefs
as a kid, you had more faith in your

senses, no matter what they showed you. Most
often the smells and sounds

of the sea, and that crystalline moon rising in
the night’s dark cathedral. You trusted

brine and froth washing over you, late below
the stars. Something dark and unnamable,

mysterious, the water changing into wonder,
the sand into flesh. And once, caught

in a rip tide, you almost gave in to temptation
You almost let go. You wanted

oneness, something deeper than peace. Stirrings,
ancient beginnings. Somehow arms

brought you back, though. Breathless and
shaken you were not done yet with

air and the world of creatures making their
solemn way in the light.

The Dead Sea

No prophylaxis for conscience,
none of your sins

sink here. Even the heaviest
anchors float,

everything bare, epidermal,
the sun like police.

The wide wave of deeds, memory
in the brine, burning

your face. Swim if you must,
dive, go under. No

matter. You cannot escape.
Salt is the truth,

rubbed on the past, pain of the
present. A little

tossed on the left for luck.
Or is it the right?

The answer is raw, the sear
of the kiln, the sting

of the sea


Always a prayer to Jonah, patron saint
of vertigo, darkness,

the terror of strangling spaces. Every
room a trap. You must

have been breech,
head still hidden,
halting life poking into the

world, traumatized. Foolishness
once in Mammoth Cave,

bravado, but each landing deeper
swirling circles, a dark

drop, unable to breathe. And
nightmares, Jonah’s

whale, impossibly large, swallowing
you, where no one, not even

a saint, could take your hand, rise, and
show you the wide open way

to light.


Laying a trap, the Vicars to Joan:
Are you wrapped in

the grace of the Lord?
And she,
in the calm of her chains:

May He let me remain if I am,
May He let me attain if I’m not.

Dressed in her best as a soul. The
verdict foreknown. Such

madness made ready for flame,
she already burned. And she

at the stake, like truth, was
wounded, glowing and free.


A cerulean sky that looks like it might
go on forever. No carbuncles either.

Nothing due or overdue. Just that pure
absorption with days you never had

time for. No seraphim and choirs, no
music. But really, what’s better than

bright birdsong, the sun pouring down its
honey, the flowers a baptism in beauty.

What’s better than an old projector endlessly
looping, playing that day, the

one you loved the most, over and over,
as if a clock had broken, as if tomorrow

would never matter again.


If only we could reverse the years as some do their numbers and words. The hourglass would fill from the bottom up and infinity would work its endless way back from forever. We’d intersect somewhere along the fleeting axis of existence. You shining toward your teens, me stumbling in the wilderness of youth. Smiling in that flickering moment, we’d think of those movies running backwards in a blur. Old men returning to the womb, flowers to a seed, big wars starting from nothing. The great reel of life in reverse. We’d pause, hold hands, see the sudden sights of the cradle. Then silence. We’d wait for the whir. Somewhere in the spin, like a memory, we’d pivot, find our way back. We’d turn ahead, finish the story. The last lines, those are the ones that matter. How they fall or rise like sparks in the wind. How they fade or burn. You need to hear them only once to take the measure of the man. The final few words as he lays it down forever. Aren’t they like a lamp whose chain he pulls just before the story ends and darkness fills the room?

John Valentine teaches philosophy at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Sewanee Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Adirondack Review and Rock Salt Plum Review. He has had five chapbooks published with Pudding House and one chapbook with Big Table.

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