Happy birthday, Joanna C. Valente! Celebrate by reading these Valente poems we published last year!
There Is No One Named Bob Here
Everything you know
a dream you can never
wake up from.
Your body isn’t
your body and your name
isn’t a name humans
Who are you when
you wake up?
You’ll never find out
and you aren’t sure if you
or want to be nothing
Capitalism teaches us
has the same outcome,
so sit back and relax.
Killer Bob Discovers Sexting & Sends a Dick Pic, Considers Sainthood
It’s been so long since we touched that I stopped touching myself because it felt wrong to touch anything but you. When we first touched, I thought I was touching God. Touch was never the same after that. Your face glowed cherry blossom and jasmine on that step above the water as if I caught you stealing a rose from a neighbor’s bush at night, as if I caught you masturbating in someone else’s bedroom — but there you were like a violin waiting to be plucked by angels, waiting to be worshipped and adorned with sage and oil and given a book of names. Your strings have been touched by countless men and women, all trying to possess you, all trying to own you because your body in a dark room is the sound of a dismembered hand playing a broken harpsichord, which reminds you of the disconnect you feel in your own form. This is why there is so much creation because how can you hate a form if you are all forms? When I say you are everything, you laugh at me and remind me that most words are useless even though you created them — all dismemberment, nothing forever in pieces like a cake too sweet to be devoured. One night, it thundered so loud and I was so scared and you had never seen me scared before, never thought I could be scared and I told you that is what my life would be like without you — godless in a garden with only severed heads, flowers growing out of the neck like arteries. I want to send you letters every day but instead I sent you a photograph and you were quiet after the picture but your lips parted, leaving a space between my rib and my body and the thunder stopped. Why do we choose to wake up every morning? You give me no choice. That is the kind of God you are.
In the Beginning God Said Yes and Satan Said No And What Is True Love Anyway?
Mom said you’re going to die alone anyway
Everyone is alone and who can you really trust anyway
when you can’t even trust yourself
so trust no one not even your own mother
All you knew about Mom was that she never drank
and her own parents poured
a new pot of black coffee over her body once when she forgot
to put out the trash
and there was that one time at summer camp when those girls
fingered her in the bathroom while she cried
and they held her down
and rubbed mud all over her body and her hair
and her pussy
and called her trash and she forgot to take out
the trash and she forgot
who she was
and maybe it made it easier when she became a mother
without having another identity
Sometimes Mom nods her head and pats your hair
says good good job
for getting A’s on math tests or washing
the dishes and remembering to ask
Mom how she feels when she’s crying
and you always want to ask why she cries
but you know she’ll be mad if you do maybe box
your ears in until all sound is missing
there are no waves left
so learn to anticipate
Mom says a lot of things
Sometimes Mom locks you out of the house
because she’s lonely
and you remind her of all the things
that have gone wrong
that are wrong
that she never did
It’s hard to be mad at her for being lonely
so instead you sleep in the cemetery
wait for something to give you a sign or a test
like the stories say always said
and you never hear anything
maybe it’s because you never learned to listen
but you know that isn’t true
considering you’ve spent your entire life
for someone who doesn’t exist
You left me behind
the waters of my dreams
rising to noise reverse waves
bringing me down to a place where you’ve always been
afraid to go threaten I’ll be
too many waves I won’t be able
to sink into
like a good story
replaceable like the thought
that makes us ourselves
without remembering the pain
that made us
and why we hurt ourselves
until we become invention
Killer Bob: Variations in Blue
Daddy didn’t teach him how to ride
a bike only taught him to recite
the alphabet backwards
& when he wakes up from the same dream
every morning he wakes up in the America
where Elvis Presley is a woman found
dead in a Costco parking lot
cops say it was pain killers but everyone knows
it was something else
resembling a tasseled bra & sequined
eyes a woman’s body draped in screams
like miscarriage a lifeless child’s body
being pinned down in the backseat of a black
Cadillac behind the school parking lot no witness
& instead a silent earth waiting to devour
the thing you thought was love the thing you love
& every time he wants to wake up in another
dream another body to be inside
& the color inside is blue not red like blood
& daddy never taught him how to swim
so in all his dreams he only drowns in all
his realities he always drowns & the ocean
shifts in muddy blues what he imagines
hell looks like & the giant strokes his hair
& Mike strokes his hair & they both tell him
to call them daddy so they are both his daddy
& they both teach him about his gender
& he is always waiting for a daddy
who doesn’t care about privates or parts or plans
or how to cut off the blood in your cock knuckles
like jellyfish under the surface all poison
& daddy says people give up but you can’t
give up & the other daddy says are you
going to let go of your guilt? Are you finally
going to let yourself drown?
to risk being reborn? Daddy says I am
everything & everyone
who has ever existed and your left hand
which you only use to steal
to take all that’s left of whoever & whatever
you want & the daddys stole him so he learned
desire & desire was for him to keep
being stolen until he wasn’t him anymore
until his desire was to fuck girls until their
cunts are gone & fuck with their cunts because
he was told anyone can fuck with a girl’s cunt
& the daddies didn’t say it was wrong
this is how he taught himself to stop
breathing forever if he wants
so he could edit Jesus out stop #fakenews
from happening & what does it matter
anyway because Jesus tried to edit himself out
just like the daddys tried to edit all of creation
during his dreams & he would wake up
aroused & he found it sort of sexy
but also horrifying waking up from sex dreams
terrified because daddy said fear
is what makes sex sexy & what does
a boy know?
I had given up on spells.
I stopped doing them.
I didn’t think anyone was listening.
I prayed for him.
Full moon came, then half moon.
He was born but I didn’t give birth.
His hands were so small.
I didn’t think he could hurt anyone.
He never cried, not even when I bathed him.
He smiled even in his sleep.
Sometimes he looked dead, he was so calm.
I wanted him so badly.
When I got him, I didn’t want him anymore.
He was too perfect for me.
I didn’t know what to do.
I wanted so badly for him to love me.
I never felt like he loved me, not even as a baby.
How do you become a mother?
How do you become a mother and regret it?
My bones wailed, my ancestors’ bones crushed me.
They spoke to me in dreams said, apocalypse now.
They spoke to me and said, mistake.
They spoke to me and said, you need to fix this.
They spoke to me and said, you cannot fix this.
My bones crushed me from the inside.
I hated him so much I began to hate everyone.
When I saw them, I wanted to crush their faces.
So I tore their faces apart and ate their insides.
I hoped they would give me something.
Instead their bodies were hollow and I felt nothing.
My body only knows pain now.
Joanna C. Valente is the author of A Love Story, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, among others. They are the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. Recipient of an MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College., Valente is the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and an editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms.