Those Around You Will Die When You Aren’t Ready
We’ve all walked into a bar before, feeling ourselves
like our pussies are our mouths, like our mouths
are in our pussies. They’re hungry. They want
to be paid for all the hard work they’ve done.
For seven years making those moans at just
the right moment—saying someone’s muffled
name, feeling a heavier body on top of you
squirm and release, while you are still so hungry
and your pussy looks like a champ right now.
She’s a great actress, she doesn’t even have to be
hungry to get it on. That’s what they all think anyway,
all those men who drink a lot of wine and whiskey
with names so fancy they can’t pronounce them
with a straight face. Sometimes I go to a bar,
drink a lot of wine, kiss a man. Sometimes I go
home with them—maybe because A.) I don’t know
what else to do or B.) because I want to
or C.) I’m too young not to fuck
everyone who crosses my pussy or D.) I know
they’ll like it, I’ve been told my pussy is magic
and I believe it’s magic because that’s what
they all say. And I’m scared. I don’t have any
money. I don’t know if I do what I want
if I’m doing what they want because I want
to be wanted. I want to be loved. Is anyone ever
really loved? Are we all just bodies at the end
of the day? Everyone at this bar looks the same.
I look like everybody at this bar. Everyone
at this bar is going to die. One day I’m
going to die. I tried to kill myself. I’ve thought
about killing myself a lot. I’m not brave enough.
At my job I tell my boss I was raped. My coworkers
read articles about my abortion. I used to be
a high school English teacher. I taught
my students present tense, past tense, future
tense. None of us understood the present.
It was always easier to understand the future,
when your present means you can’t walk
down the street, have a man possess your body
just because he wants to. There is no trial,
no allegation, no justice. The present is
different when you have a pussy, blood
between your legs so hot, so eager
and student loans because YOLO, because
you don’t want children and you’re going
to die while listening to Whitney Houston’s
“I Will Always Love You.”
AS IF YOU’RE HAPPY
Your dad cried when he first saw
your tattoos, not realizing
we are all getting tattooed
every second because our bodies
are all dying every second.
We think we’re alive
by all the people we think
we love and that we actually
love—all of our ancestor’s
memories have already
been tattooed in our DNA
like the want for water,
the desire for a future
we are afraid to experience
like our bodies if our bodies
There aren’t any animals
outside your apartment building.
Your wife’s phone
is in the kitchen and you want
to tap the screen to see which
version of her is in there
and you think how it’s been
a mild winter and why the crows
and how your mouth feels
with pussy inside and your body
used to feel
in Brooklyn and Brooklyn
taught you that because life is
a grid, you can’t possibly
except when your body
is in another body
like painting the same bridge
over and over and over again
and you and the other you
are standing on the corner
of Central Park West & 96th
with a water bottle on your chest
like you’re trying to make a statement
about what makes a human
while a man on the D train
has a hat that says blessed
and the woman you’re with
knows nothing is blessed, that sex
is a part of our bodies
that manifests the idea
of a needing to be filled—
and both of you want to be filled
and both of you woke up in
the same morning with the same
kind of forever
watching you, from a distance—
it’s always a distance
and this forever gives you names:
you are morning and this woman
is night and you are both
different worlds in the same
world. You don’t want it
to end badly, with either
You tell the woman
she looks famous and she
like a hummingbird
staggering backwards into
an abandoned room
papers and clothes still
lying around as if someone
is coming back for them
but you know no one is
and your hand is banging
against a door
and your head is resting
on the glass pane
and there is a muddle
of organs beating
in the middle of the room
and you want to keep them all
but you know you don’t
but you want to own something
so you take out some jars
and start preserving
and pickling and tending
and loving and everything
in this room suddenly looks
trashy and you feel like
a child without a key
to your own house.
NO ONE CAN HELP YOU
It never comes.
Day after day, you wait
for it to come and you’ve never
wanted anything more
in your entire life than to see
blood, to know you still have
a chance because you know
without that blood—that
shit-colored red stain
in your panties—that he still has
a claim on you, that motherfucker.
And that makes you hate him.
But not as much as you hate
yourself for never bleeding.
When you take the test
in your job’s bathroom while
you’re supposed to be shelving books,
you immediately know what you have
to do. There’s never a question.
You are 20. You can’t even drink.
Only weeks before you were waiting
in the emergency room. You thought
you were going to die. You wanted
to die. This was after he raped you
the first time in your sleep
and you told yourself it wasn’t rape.
You convinced yourself it was fine.
Maybe you even liked it. But this
was before he held you down,
really held you down, hit
the side of your head so hard
you can no longer hear
This was before he told you that
you should have said no more.
You don’t even want to look
at yourself in the mirror. You dial
a number for a cab, wait for them
to pick you up and when they do,
you want to leave. You get in
instead. When he asks the address,
you tell him in your smallest voice.
He knows where you’re going.
He doesn’t say anything
until you’re in the parking lot
and he asks if you want him
to wait. You thank him and say no.
If there’s one thing you’ve learned,
it’s that no one can help you
LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING
There was a sign
on the door,
Jesus don’t live here
The black paint chipped
in a way
where you know
no one has been
home for a long time.
There is a spider
hanging loose from its
web waiting for a mate
and the taste of the first
bite, the perverted hope
in his flesh—it’s the same
want to make the man
who strangled you
dickless, drain the power
from his body piece by piece.
This man said, you learned
to get a reaction
from other men,
it’s what everyone
in the magazines say
and you still love him
sometimes and you wish
you didn’t. I tell myself
I’ve already forgotten
you, that you came
to me in a dream
hovering over my bed
like a man in a black
suit. I don’t know if you
are real or if it’s
the dream that is real.
I don’t know which version
of me is the real one
but I’ll let you choose
the most flattering version,
that smell of wet skin
burning—erosion by human.
Sometimes I’m turned on
by my own death.
You fell down
when you first heard my voice.
Your head slid under the cold
blue vinyl of my car’s seat, your legs
like a sweaty pineapple. You have never
heard a sound like a scab, you say,
like always, always, always. When you fall
asleep, I send your dreams to your
lungs so you wake up in a cold sweat,
in a fever, in a trance, with your heart
beating like a pen spilling its ink into
a lake, my breath. You live alone in
your Brooklyn apartment. There are no plants.
You don’t believe in permanence, you say
we’re the same that way. But I’ve roamed
these streets with different names and faces,
wearing death like lipstick, shaping my body
into new forms that mostly just look like the old
ones in the dark. It’s always the dark. It’s always
a river. I’m not going to hurt you. I told you that.
He told me that when he had me sign my name,
when he had me take off my clothes. I’m not
going to hurt you. Give me a mouth
and a watch and I’ll tell you when
the time comes.
Joanna C. Valente is sometimes a mermaid and sometimes a human. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014) and The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press), and received her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. Her collections Marys of the Sea is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in 2016 and Xenos is forthcoming from Agape Editions/Sundress in 2017. Some of her work appears in The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, The Atlas Review, The Destroyer, among others. In 2011, she received the American Society of Poet’s Prize. She edits Yes, Poetry, and is the Managing Editor for Luna Luna Magazine and Civil Coping Mechanisms.
Featured Image “Killing Fields Cambodia” © Natasha Marin.