The Salvageman

By Rebecca Valley

an excerpt

I want to talk to you about awe

what it means to turn
yourself over

At the ice rink, someone is bleeding
Last year, a car hit your mailbox
and made it new again
bent over itself in worship

Nothing is serious, you say, but beauty

Which is not awe. Which
is not what I’m talking
about exactly




I am writing a book for children about money

In the book, the Salvageman is trying to turn the whole city into

The protagonist is my brother, an amateur numismatist

He is the only one who can turn currency back
into an object worthy of love




I married the Salvageman for a steady paycheck
Look at this gumball ring of our love

He will pay me a percentage of
a percentage of what I was once worth

I was told I can make anything out of words, so I made you up.
I wrote a poem and gave it your name

I know love, but I also know attention
In winter, we walk single file on the sidewalk
to make room for our acres
of snow




In business, the principle of value is
some combination of scarcity, labor,
and the weight of raw material

For example, my value might
be represented by some ratio of
what I can give and
how much you want me

on any

In the taking apart of me,
there is a somber moment in which
the uterus is cradled in the palm of the surgeon,
who understands the significance of potential

The Salvageman is careful with leftovers
Leftovers are the fruit of his work




We move to the city to escape
the collateral of our mothers

We are afraid to be so close to the womb
which might reveal
like an oracle
the sum total of our worth

Awe is defined as an emotion variously combining
“dread,” “veneration,” and “wonder”

And who are you to question my candles lit
at the Temple of Salvation?

In the city I built for us, there is no room
for anything but memory

I call you from a pay phone
where Snow Place meets
Summer. But you are not at home,

you are listening to the radio in
a bar across the city

a miracle so enormous,
I will never be able
to find it




I give you this

in order to prove
I am capable of loving

something unfamiliar
to my people

I mean the field

I was born from
a scythe and

you know it

I am trying to prove
to you

through a series of distant

that I know another state
is possible

even for people
like me




Sometimes I frighten you with the smells
coming off my body

The Salvageman is not afraid
of what I can make with physical processes
the carburetor another name for
what I am capable of
in the dark

I am lost in the fog between
what you know of me and what I wish
you would find out

I am driving an old car through this weather.
Soon, I will arrive at your house




I am not asking the Salvageman for what he took

I am asking only for the answer to a question

I know the dark parts of my city must be filled with water,
or they would be full of something profitable

The Salvageman and I gamble
on birds in the parking lot

I am asking only for the question itself




The Salvageman took
my infant fist
in his palm

He found a portrait of
lovers in
a field of poppies

He showed me how
to wear weight on my back
to make my body
a lever
to manage
my desire

I was heavy for you

I forgot which holes
I had given my skin
and which had been given to me
for sport

When I came to you, my one
sore knee, I was holding
the body of a soft brown bird

I had been taught the alchemy of want

What I gave you
I had no right to give

Headshot of Rebecca Valley

Rebecca Valley is a poet, editor, and animal enthusiast from St. Albans, Vermont. Her poems and essays have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Rattle, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, and elsewhere. In her spare time, she edits Drizzle Review, a book review site with a focus on minority authors and books in translation. She received her MFA from UMass Amherst, and currently lives in western Massachusetts with a long-whiskered cat.

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