By Serena Agusto-Cox
First scrapbook page
each photo selected with care
a life loved into memory
with each square of sticky tape
each star sticker and caption
We love ourselves,
friends, times together
dark shadows char the edges
sneers of peers, bully barbs
Pull it back
breathe deep into the belly
release the shoulders
blow shadow wisps away with breath
Serena M. Agusto-Cox, a Suffolk University graduate, writes more vigorously than she did in her college poetry seminars. Her day job continues to feed the starving artist, and her poems can be read in Dime Show Review, Baseball Bard, Mothers Always Write, Bourgeon, Beginnings Magazine, LYNX, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Harrow, Poems Niederngasse, Avocet, Pedestal Magazine, and other journals. An essay also appears in H.L. Hix’s Made Priceless, as does a Q&A on book marketing through blogs in Midge Raymond’s Everyday Book Marketing. She also runs the book review blog, Savvy Verse & Wit, and founded Poetic Book Tours to help poets market their books.
*Namaste first appeared in Love_Is_Love: An Anthology for LGBTQIA+ Teens
GOD OF LONELINESS
say something is love
when it isn't & we are
still stuck in it.
THE HOUSE NO ONE LIVES IN
The tenants didn’t speak. At least, no one in the buildings around them ever heard them speak. Really, you’d think the entire building—all four floors in the red-brick brownstone—were empty except for the few times you saw shadowy figures in the windows, distantly looking off to the traffic or the horizon maybe to see what time it was or remember how it looked when they were five years old and waiting for their fathers to come home after work. B looked up at the top floor window, trying to see if anyone was home. He’d ring the doorbell and ask to be let inside, except he can’t.
B doesn’t fit inside the house. B was born too big to live inside a narrow Brooklyn brownstone. D has tried to push him in the doorframe, tried to lift him in the ground floor window, but it’s never worked. Once D suggested that B go on a diet, eat less red meat, but B only cried. That night, he laid in the backyard and stretched his hooves deep into the ground, saw some of the few stars the foggy sky would allow, and wondered why his huge body made him so lonely. All he ever wanted was to be held in a way where he felt held, where he felt seen beyond his long formidable snout and sharp horns, so sharp at the ends that most of the other animals in the neighborhood were afraid of him. Afraid he’d hurt them or break into their homes or steal their money because of the way he looks.
D wasn’t afraid of B, but he just didn’t know what to do. He supposed he could have made an extension to the house in the back like the family next door, but he was also afraid about the kind of message it would send to the others—especially the others in the house, the ones that no one ever saw. D was the only one who ever saw them—he guessed it was just because his uncle was the landlord of the building until he died—and because his uncle didn’t have any kids or family, D took over. Now D lives there alone, his long lanky limbs often pacing back and forth, never sure of what to do or where to go. He wants someone to make those decisions for him, tell him where to walk, where to run, how to play.
Outside at night, the age of speed and new horizons are so close to touch, it seems to B, but how to get there? The trains are too expensive for B right now. Sometimes B is so hopeful, his insides feel like they are going to burst in a dizzying blossom of stars that enfold like flowers. Then other times, sometimes in the very same day, everything feels so lost and his body feels so heavy, the sky crashes like a dark unbreakable shell over him, lined with hardened silver. It was during one of these nights that C came outside, slow like a drop of honey dripping from a glass bottle—confident in her slowness, as if the night would wait for her.
She jumped onto his back as if she knew him for centuries, as if it wasn’t strange to push her body onto his without asking, without consent. B didn’t protest. He laid down on his side and together they sat silent, looking out to the horizon, hearing the chirping of cars and trains and other planets in the far distance. None of it really mattered.
Her First Love
It was the anniversary of her grandmother's death.
Every dog in the neighborhood kept throwing up spoons.
She wanted to watch an old Western, talk on the phone.
Days are only more hours to lie about.
Jacob asked her to come over because it had just been him
& skinny Elvis records all day & he was starting
to see ghosts of Presley, his sister.
He reeked of Newports.
Maggie wasn’t sure who was the ghost.
He tells her he loves her, that he means it.
They kiss & he pretends she is a boy.
Paul & Marianne
They met in kindergarten. His grandmother would drive
Them to school until they went to separate high schools.
Paul wasn't allowed to go to school with girls anymore.
Marianne never understood; he only hung out with girls.
Once they were old enough, he'd pick her up, hair greased
inadvertently in a perfect wave, cool like a relaxed sonata.
One night he snuck inside her house while she was asleep,
waiting for her to wake—imagining all the ways her face
will age. He knew she would only grow lovelier, deadlier
with time. When Marianne woke up, she smiled in relief
like she was coming up for air—this was how Paul knew
he could trust her. Morning light spilled in gleams
over their bodies. Paul told her he wanted to be a dancer,
rent an apartment in the city with a dog & a man.
He was tired of fixing cars so his hands would become
rough. For years, all he wanted were hands that could build.
She already knew, said it was no big deal. They drove away,
passing strangers—wishing they had flowers instead of neighbors.
They entered a house one afternoon
when they were still in elementary
school: a woman dug into the palm
of a man with a metal pin & he
didn't plead or ask her to stop.
They watched his face while she
kept digging for roots of black iron,
oozing waters out of the wound.
He seemed to feel no pain when
she scraped out steaming gunk.
He thanked her, licking the scab--
satisfied only after chewing on
the skin, sucking out the juice &
peeling back to the heart
chirping as a cricket frightened
of a woman with parted legs. In order
to forget what they've seen, they kiss
each other on the lips. They undress
their white stomachs & baby thighs
with charcoal. They, too, want to taste
the meat of the fruit—fearing
the thrill of the chase.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (ELJ Publications, 2016) & Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes, Poetry and the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in Prelude, BUST, Spork Press, The Feminist Wire, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente