Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
by Joanna C. Valente
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
without a message carved somewhere
saying 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 mechanism.
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 good.
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 someone
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 eating
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