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From the Archives: Five Poems, by Joanna C. Valente

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
has been

a dream you can never
wake up from.

Your body isn’t
your body and your name

isn’t a name humans
can pronounce.

Who are you when
you wake up?

You’ll never find out
and you aren’t sure if you

want to
or want to be nothing

Capitalism teaches us
either option

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
to lose


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
to hear
so learn to anticipate
new things
Mom said

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
you think

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
damned with

too many waves I won’t be able

to sink into
like a good story
a prayer

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.


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