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Sep 11, 2012

VALVIC a heart attack in three acts - James Claffey


The heart is an engine, an engine, an engine. Four chambers thump away, an enigma, an enigma, an enigma. The beach late one night, the tide full in, the shush of wave and wash full-echoing in the dark, her scarred, pitted face, bright against a backdrop of cloud. In the syzygy of incoming water she is on her back, the moon in her eyes, panting, heavy-bodied, my mouth on hers, the bitter taste of coffee, fatal jabs to the heart.

The rock is a bed, the sky a cabin, the moon a lamp, and she is all I can handle and more, now one of the chambers of my heart has ceased to beat, closed its valvic opening, failed in its task. I feel sleepy, the rush of blood in my inner ear resonates with the to-and-fro of the ocean, and her body is laid out on the rock the way laundry sinks into porous sandstone, the rail of her tongue weakened, the shine of her eyes a memory.


The scut, a young lad of fifteen, sees me pouring sugar into the petrol tank. One of the intifada, he leaves me on the flat of my back, the bullet lodged in the base of my skull, the spot where last summer a tick embedded itself and gorged on my blood. For weeks the skin was cracked, flesh exposed, its torsoless legs tunneled into the skin. The area around the tick hardened, crusted with yellow pus. Fingers found tweezers found tiny legs found purchase and withdrew them one at a time. The swollen area like a crater on a distant planet, the fuzzy image beamed back to earth from months away.

I am flying forward against a table, the collapse to bare floor a sinking into darkness—a signal. Even in unconsciousness, smoke spirals from the barrel, an exhausted trail of rapt witness. I am not dead, only stunned; the duck egg on my forehead caused by impact with a wall. Where the snub-nosed projectile struck is bare of hair since the tick incident. Maybe it’s the shock, maybe something else, but I blurt my pants, and the warmth spreads across my buttocks.

vena cava

The broken valves sputter. There’s tightness in my chest from where the wires go in. I swallow a cocktail of pills—blue, red, gray, white, small, oval, large, circular—and drain the tube that leads into the plastic bucket by my bed. I am spun thin in the bed, the numbers greening their way across the gray. Tongue thick, throat narrowed, my fingers peel and crack, the tissue papery and forlorn.

The dizzying sun is behind the muslin curtain, the orbit elliptical, the stutter-stop-start a queer progression in the morning air. Once I lived across from a lane where we played French cricket and pitched a threadbare ball through summer air. Now, it is autumn, the systems shuts down, the last innings begun. The wind brings red hair and lost memories.

BIO: James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His work appears in many places, including The New Orleans Review, NAP, Scissor & Spackle, Connotation Press, Gone Lawn, and Press1. His website is at


  1. An amazing piece, especially for its brevity. Like a bullet wound, I suspect, round and smooth to the eye, total disruption within. Bravo!

  2. thanks mia and steve, and unknown!