Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Joanna C. Valente

Abstract illustration of two rainbow semi-circles on a white background

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things


You grew up believing
the world is haunted. 

Your mother was afraid 
she was possessed, so 

she ignored the people
that walked down your block,
sat outside like dying 

sunflowers on your stoop.
They don’t exist. 

They are ghosts and you
are afraid of them. 

You began to ignore the people
on the street, too, their limbs
swollen, eyes gone

into another world, a world you
are afraid to be 

pulled under

without a message carved

I was here. You repeat. 

You repeat. 
You repeat until you’re pulled underneath 
where dreams slither into black mud. 

You don’t make it to gold dust. 
Twilight held us once, someone tells you.
We knew our bodies 
like our own bodies until our bodies became 
strangers to us both, 
a 1,000 oceans changing shape. 

It’s easier to ignore
what’s right 

in front of you.

We call it a defense


I position myself before you,
fully conscious

of your body and your eye
your eye on my body and my eye

and when you ask what I’m thinking
I can’t tell you about the little boy
I used to bathe with

whose mother forgot to bathe him,
who died of an overdose before
we could laugh about how old
we became. 

I don’t tell you
about the woman I loved but never told
her I loved her

because I couldn’t lose her. I lost her
anyway. I don’t

tell you about how I don’t call
my 95-year-old grandmother


because I’m afraid of her dying.
I don’t tell you about how I’m afraid
no one will love me after

my divorce. I don’t tell you how
I read my own tarot, pulling out cards I don’t want, 

so I can put them back. 
Sometimes, I don’t.


Being bad feels pretty


I heard a man call my name 
from another world
his body possessing mine
as if garlic was being shoved
inside my lungs, my nostrils;

I am a cow underwater
waiting to sink. 

His voice scared me.
 I jolted awake. No one was there. 
It was dark. I was alone.

He said I wouldn’t remember anything
and I don’t other than the desire
for a body next to mine
this wild thing
even though loneliness
is just an empty garden of overflowing ivy 
and vast promises
no one can keep. 
All we want is to see ourselves 
in someone else

and he knows this. At night, I dream for someone 
to fall into me. 
Each time, I am reborn as a twin
each one weaker than the first
and we don’t look like each other at all
some days but other days I don’t know
which one of us is which. We are dying
over and over, new deaths we call growth. 
We are dying over and over again until we can’t 
breathe anymore. No one is the better for it. 

We just make do 
with a tainted dream
and you say you feel like I punched
you in the stomach and I don’t
want to hate you. 

I don’t want sympathy.
I just want to be seen. 


On the internet, someone
calls me a mean girl
even though I’m not
a girl 

I am their ghost. 


Most people think
ghosts have no feelings

which is why they ignore them
as if they will go away
as if they don’t matter

as if an exorcism is just something
that happens when you don’t like

and can make someone stop,
go away as if they never existed

but they will just make
you ghosts too. You can’t see a ghost

and feel nothing. You only become
a ghost of yourself the more

you try to ignore them,
to ignore yourself, 
to ignore the very thing you were born with

until you rub yourself 
of that so clean you are 

something entirely, something
much worse entirely,
not even a ghost.


What does it mean when you take back
a promise? A woman on the bus is crying,
pretends it’s allergies
when I ask if she’s OK
in a place that is 90 percent

sky. We live in different apartments and phone calls
and texts and there are so many
miles, she said—asked 

how do I count all the numbers
right? I hope you are her, I hope you love me
how I used to be loved. 
I know I’m trading one love for another
I can keep
but I don’t know what else

to do than chain myself to something
I don’t understand. 


I don’t want to be a story
that lives inside Pandora’s box
waiting to grow old 
turn houses into ghosts 

children talk about
in hushed circles like ouroboros 

everything we ever missed
when none of it was ever enough
hunger in the first place. 


Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of several books, including Marys of the Sea, #Survivor (2020, The Operating System), and Killer Bob: A Love Story (2021, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault and received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. Twitter: joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente
Illustrations this week are by Philadelphia-based musician and artist Rosali Middleman. Instagram: @rosalimusic