James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and thirty times. In 2013, he was a Finalist for the Tuscany Prize in Catholic Fiction. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was awarded a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His most recent novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Readers’ Favorite Book Award winner, a Notable Best Indie Book of 2019, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019, and a RED RIBBON WINNER, highly recommended by The Wishing Shelf Book Awards in the United Kingdom.

Simply Silly

You sit in the cafeteria corner,
oblivious to the old teacher watching you.
Too busy avoiding eye contact with peers,
fingertips white from pressing so hard
against the open book you’re not reading.

As if this ritual would prevent the cool kids
from looking and laughing at your expense.
You want to be invisible because you feel
unlikeable and unimportant.
You think, Why would anyone talk to me?

Someday, when you’re truly reading
and the book is full of poetry,
I hope you chance upon this page
to discover that a gray-haired teacher
cared about you many years ago.

Know that you were never insignificant,
the cool kids were simply silly,
and you mattered much to him.


The old man—
flaccid face
blue-water eyes
rough sloped nose
broken capillaries
tributaries on arid land.

His belly—
white boulder
strewn with seaweed hair.

Spindly legs—
coarse rippled skin
circles of
muted tans
and drops of brown.

Delta of purple ankles.

On the dock—
hands cupped

Water he cannot reach.