James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and seventy-five times and has been recognized with many awards. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was granted 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. Two of his novels were Finalists for the United Kingdom’s Wishing Shelf Book Awards. His novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019. He was shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2021 for his poetry.


The twenty-something blonde offered
to lift my suitcase to the overhead compartment.
The thin boy with glasses said he’d push my cart
of groceries if I wanted help to the car.
The high school girl behind the glass
passed a senior ticket without my asking.
My principal inquired, “When will you be retiring?”
My neighbor (close in years) has cancer.
My doctor said men my age have difficulty peeing.

I’ve taught stories about rites of passage my whole career
—a first kiss, the first date, marriage, and children.
When the young woman looked at my gray hair
and offered to lift my luggage,
I thought of these other rites,
and the Last Rites, too.

As the plane rose through the clouds, I felt turbulence.
Outside the rain-pattered window was solid blackness.
I saw an old man. I knew what was behind me.
I knew what lay ahead.

How odd that an act of kindness made me think so much.
When we landed, the suitcase seemed heavier.
My exit was clear.