The Pigeons

I watched the bakery lady feed the pigeons
the day old bread I'd buy before I lost my job

upstairs looking from my window
the bakery lady came holding a brown bag

the pigeons were there by three o' clock
they were waiting, they knew the score

I hated the pigeons,
they were flying roaches

the bakery lady didn't break up the bread
she threw whole slices the pigeons picked apart

I was hungry and getting dangerously thin
one day the lady threw down pumpernickel

I waited until she was gone and went downstairs,
stood there watching, the pigeons looked at me

one mean circular eye on me, one on the bread,
as if they knew what I was doing

I needed that bread, I lunged after a slice
but the pigeon next to it was too fast

it got the bread in its beak and scooted away
but the pigeon couldn't fly with bread in its mouth

I lunged again but it just dodged to its left
flapping its heavy gray wings

I must have tried ten times, sometimes waiting
until they dropped the bread, but they were too fast

and then, tired, I sat down on the ground
while the pigeons ate and watched me

when they finished there wasn't much left
but I found one slice covered with pigeon spit

I sat down against a wall, wiped off the bread,
broke off a piece and held it to my lips

I hated myself, was nothing but walking roach
but I chewed the bread and swallowed

I knew the score


at first nobody expected much from me
but everybody liked me

my parents believed I was destined to go nowhere
but still thought I was a good son

my teachers thought I was learning disabled
but still thought I was a good student

the army thought I was naturally incompetent
but still thought I was a good soldier

my wife thought I was emotionally worthless
but still thought I was a good husband

for a while it was a nice existence

with expectations so low
it was easy to be good

and I became the good son
the good student
the good soldier
the good husband
they always thought I was

but the minute I started getting good
nobody liked me anymore

expectations got too high
I kept letting people down

then my parents disowned me
and my teachers failed me
and the army expelled me
and my wife divorced me

becoming good has made me the failure
I am today

James Valvis lives in Issaquah, Washington. His poems or stories have recently appeared in Atom Mind, Beggars & Cheeseburgers, Confrontation, Icon, Nerve Cowboy, Pearl, Rattle, Slipstream, Southern Indiana Review, Wormwood Review, and are forthcoming in ART TIMES, Arts & Letters, Crab Creek Review, Gargoyle, Iodine Poetry Journal, Hanging Loose, Midwest Quarterly, New York Quarterly, Nimrod, Potomac Review, South Carolina Review, and elsewhere. He won the Chiron Review poetry contest. A novelette, "One of those Zombie Lovers," was a Story South Notable Story in 2005. A collection of poems is due from Aortic Books in 2011.

2004-2010 Underground Voices