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La Chalupa, the Boat by Jean Valentine

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La Chalupa, the Boat
Jean Valentine

I am twenty,
drifting in la chalupa,
the blue boat painted with roses,
white lilies—

No, not drifting, I am poling
my way into my life.         It seems
like another life:

There were the walls of the mind.
There were the cliffs of the mind,
There were the seven deaths,
and the seven bread-offerings—

Still, there was still
the little boat, the chalupa
you built once, slowly, in the yard, after school—


If there’s one thing that I want to say I have done in my life, out of all the mistakes, out of all the regrets, out of all the tiny things that make up a self—it’s that I was not merely drifting, not letting myself be carried to whatever direction, even if that’s what I must’ve wished a hundred times, a thousand times. I’ve been unanchored time and time again—not waving but drowning—but I want to say I actively engaged with this world, that I wielded my pole. I’m mixing my metaphors but you know what I mean.

Times I have discovered myself:

  • Between the pages of a book
  • In my lover’s mouth
  • There, in the pit, with my demons
  • While washing the dishes
  • One afternoon eating ice cream in a park in another country
  • Within the opening chords of Essie Jain’s The Rising
  • On my knees, my own arms around me, willing myself not to die

Have you ever thought about the landscape of your mind, its mountains and rivers. The deer that makes you notice the flowers. The teeth that bite into fruit. The shadows that tell you of decay. Cycles of loss and renewal.

Where is your boat?

I think the human spirit possesses a remarkable capacity for persistence and determination. That self-discovery is a deliberate, intentional process. That meaningful growth requires effort and participation—it is a serious thing, just to be alive

Here is a gift I’ve been given: my little chalupa endures.


This poem appeared in Little Boat by Jean Valentine, published by Wesleyan University Press, 2007. Shared here with profound gratitude.


Read more works by Jean Valentine • Find books by this poet • Or view my library


Explore poems in pursuit of: persistencejourneysthe self • Or browse the index

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