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New Poetry

Earth at the Time of Mercury Retrograde

by Joanna C. Valente


It was your bi-yearly crisis run. Heard your mother talk on the phone, said: another pregnancy, another marriage. Persistence isn't a key trait passed down through your family. Told me to use my name when you pushed my head under water. Bathtub flooded ears in plain sight, alphabet graphs waxing in my cavities. Just this morning, you ate oatmeal in the back patio of your apartment while a mother sat in her car across the street, newborn in the backseat.


At a certain hunger point, it is impossible to cook. In order to subdue the effects, one needs to burn sage and anoint the body with holy oil. Drink any excess oil to burn unneeded parts of the body. Cut radishes, roaches, then add snake venom into a blender. Mix until it is a thick liquid violet in color. For the next week, your body will excrete all waste, including but not limited to: bullshit, ear wax, high fructose corn syrup, rage, sodium benzoate, mucus, cum, words, but most especially, rage. After this cleanse is over, how to cut a bitch in ten seconds will be second nature.


You spat three gunshots at the woman in the Toyota Corolla. It was just a breathing exorcism after all. There are 500 bats living in the house you inherited from your parents. In the master bedroom, I was gagged, 200 male-pounds of flesh hovering over my body. Lord I called out for someone who listens—some jasmine voice above me chanted and chanted. It could have been yours.

Inside me: a cat post where your penis kept clawing. Sandpaper: not yet not yet not yet. In a minute, I could have been ready. In a minute where I could think of eternity's time. In a minute, you take my neck around your fingers. Stopped my raging. I was dead but I wasn't sad. Yes, I am lying on the bed because this is where you put me and no I cannot play with you. What I say doesn't make sense anymore.

Dear Niagara Falls

I wrote a song
about you moving
New York into
an igloo reading
from crystal balls

giving answers
about why we won't
die in a supernova
but in Antarctica
swallowing what's left
of the titanic

sharing each of its
many hooves, light fire
to stories about birds
and mothers—mothers
and birds and bats

floating off the gulf
coast like toxic waste
with a sign that reads
please do not
swallow spoonfuls
only teaspoons

& please remember
to place gauze
inside your son's
marrow to prevent
cancer that will kill
him by spring,

only to release
moths belly down
on his grave, DNA
translates to speech
—now a mother
will finally know her
son's secrets:

a furnace thumps
& swans beat their
wings, gun-metal
shots melt an igloo
losing all helvetica


When getting off
the F train, I pretend to be

another woman

carrying a stroller over the gap—
in the streets, my hand falls

—as if holding another intricate
set of bones. When I'm ready,

my uterus will lunar eclipse.
You could have been

my baby. I was almost your mother.
In the gap, I left you to fall—

jarred starlight, steaming.

The Hanged Man (XII)

                              I'm not a discharge
                               I'm not a loss in protein
                               I'm not a throbbing squirm
                               —Sex Pistols, “Bodies”

In the beginning, I was not
a man. On waters I drank
to find home, the blackest
dark. On slugs served,
I ate to understand
the color yellow,
what a woman could
die from.

Do you remember when
we met? I could not say
how much I loved you.
In a waiting room,
a woman I love, who
doesn't even know me,
but loves me so much
she can't stand to
keep me like a dying
radio. She can't stand
to kill me the same
way she gave her
cat to sleep.

I don't kick to calm
her down. She will think
she is making
the wrong decision
if I move,
that I will come back
to haunt her when
she is older & married,
when she pulls down
a string to reveal
a bloodless tampon.

In the doctor's office,
I taste bitter, know
there is something
ugly about me. Never seen
I imagine her eating
slugs on rock salt
to satisfy me, me
a dash between her
and her lover, her
legs. Inside
her restless sleep,
I dream of breath.

It takes a certain kind
of skill to unfinish what
you started. It takes
a certain kind of love
to pronounce my
name, gorge
on slugs, to pull
yourself right out
of yourself. I heard
you when you said

Joanna C. Valente is a MFA candidate in poetry writing at Sarah Lawrence College, where she is also a part-time mermaid. She founded and currently edits Yes, Poetry. She can be found at

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