Issue: Reimagining / Poetry

Poetry by Joanna C. Valente


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.”



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

were forests.


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

get lost

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

of them.


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

own anyone

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.


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

yourself breathing.

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

with this.


There was a sign

on the door,

Jesus don’t live here

no more.

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 exaggerate

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.


joannavalenteJoanna 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.