I sat and there a scatter
earth & one
purple flower fled
like jazz notes, the station
he listened to & something his father
used to listen to, pre & post a lot
One night I asked if it hurt, his father & the silence
& he said no, nothing ever
We continued to talk until
our jaws began to hurt
but his father never came up
You don’t want children. You are firm
with this. I have mixed feelings.
You walk out of the room.
I fold extra napkins, put two extra
just to see what it would
The empty plates are a black lake, home
to a thousand bull frogs, a green shag carpet
and I no longer
know how to talk
There were coffee rings on the end table
in his mother’s house. When she died,
he inherited it—
the ringed stains, his shrinking body, the memory
The snakes were on the path, their heads
at each other’s backs, tails
as if to agree to never
go back, a covenant of wills not love.
This is almost the truth.
Instead, another truth:
pomegranate seeds nestled inside
of stars, some purple orchids, a door
forty degrees and a glimpse of
a Mustang red like clay
& cookie dough in the kitchen,
you naked until
the timer goes off, no record
on until you are in
Now it is mostly cloudy & you play
Peter Grabriel instead of running
outside. For now—
we will sacrifice.
Of silver things, obsidian things, red things.
I find that I am still digging.
You ask if I have postage stamps.
I say nothing only hurts.
Nothing really hurts.
A second puberty came.
Unearthed like wild
moons dancing lost
& out of orbit, a telephone rings somewhere
& someone stands in a wedding dress across
from their wife
while ghosts wake up in the same house
over and over unable to read the newspaper
or know existence
and the existence
of all these new living creatures
these things—these clouds like murals,
suns in every sky
in every time.
In one apartment, the door opens to rooms
full of closets and doors and fur coats
in the walls, grocery carts, nutrition facts,
receipts for cigarettes, for someone’s time,
for all the boys
who never were, for all
the girls who couldn’t.
She has waited her whole unlife,
After nona died, I looked for maps
to find my ancestors, the dreams
of our ancestors
& wait for silver to spread
from my toes to torso
but it never happened,
these legs long like wet
There was a time I believed
You planned to take us to the lighthouse,
learn how to swim
like smoke blown
into holy statues, the faces
of our parents, the
ugly teeth beneath
their lips &
the afterlife beyond blue.
Make a wish:
One day you will wake up
in a place where
are passé, archaic,
Our intentions won’t be like theirs
reddened by the dye of their dead.
Or so you think.
There is room enough.
We drove past the sea
and didn’t stop for the dreams
that keep on killing us.
We instead argued over
soggy french fries
& greasy hamburgers
& blamed each other
for making the wrong choices,
This was the evidence I needed
Not yet broke down by maggots,
We were outside and none of us
Where were the Greek diners
with all the waiters that were always
there? Where was Yiayia putting on
her makeup, her Chanel No. 5?
Where did my mother once ride
on the back of a motorbike
with a man named Pete?
I don’t remember at all,
she said—and she never did believe
in Beethoven or ginger candy
or the diner on Central Ave
like I did. Can you
I might have asked,
apples, orchids dying
from not enough rain,
and have you discovered
of birds in these trees
that your grandfather grew?
You are underneath on all fours,
balancing on your teeth balanced
on my teeth.
There is no mathematics
of speech just as there is
Stark and naked
like a pearl,
we haven’t yet been
In this house of sea you wash,
each cell awaiting baptism,
become an angel bearing
unwise fruits, unholy salt
& salted suns melting into
horizons, other planets. Undone
waves meet you
like a telephone ringing, a dead
number on the other line,
a grandparent’s voice, fingers lost
in doorways of sleep, black
soil unhinged like a gate to hell or heaven
(is there a difference?)
and we slip
I can’t stop.
They told me about Poseidon’s
Delivery Service—and as a kid, I waited
for him to come to our house
on a giant boat made of seashells
but he never came like that, only
left me with nightmares of
kaleidoscope ghosts shifting through heart lines
palpitating distance & nondistance.
I would never again be
so grateful for every consistency,
every variation in greyscale. Jazz
dissolving into spring, tired stretch of pale
rain tasting like the purity we were both
frightened cats and wayward birds
knot around azaleas. Into the
sea we inhabit shells like parasites
pregnant with adoration/I say don’t
you think swimming
is better than breathing?
The bathroom mirrors
in my grandmother’s house
were the exact color
of ocean water
as it would foam over sand,
sharp critical sounds of
wind against leaves, wind
against broken fences,
resonance of vowels
of cars parking.
Is life a dash or comma, is death
a period or a question mark?
I always envied the fact that she never
Everything in the world died.
It was a car crash or a hurricane
or a tornado or an asteroid. There are many
versions of truth.
We were all happy together until we weren’t.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Joanna is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015) Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018), No(body) (Madhouse Press, 2019), and #Survivor (The Operating System, 2020). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing By Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017), and received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine.