Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela


When Toni Morrison Turns to You at Dinner

and asks, “So, are you fucking your graduate students?” it says more about 
her balls than yours. It also speaks to expectations of power. Expectations
of men.


Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. And though she’s also paid some sort of rent in Lawrence, Detroit, D.C., Laramie, Havana and the Mexican state of Chiapas, Philadelphia has mostly been her home since 2000. Her poetry and prose has been supported by the work of The Leeway Foundation, Hedgebrook, Art Farm, Fancyland, VONA/Voices, Lambda, Make/shift, As Us, The Rust Belt Rising, Solstice, APIARY, Aster(ix), Big Bell and others. She is the founder of Thread Makes Blanket press and teaches at the Community College of Philadelphia.

After that, you give up hope of impressing her. Though you still say smart
Though you too can hover over a table with detached, wisened
ease. And the woman on your other side, the one who administrates
something, is a believer. But she always is. She doesn’t even know
when she isn’t.

On bad days, you feel like everyone is bullshitting. Except that lady. Except
she is screaming her head off. Or that other one, the one who went for
immolation[1]. She 
really tried. You know better than to except yourself. I’ll
give you that. I’ll give you that.

We could guess that Ms. Morrison was trying to entertain herself. We could
guess that 
she has been to so many of these dinners, that she can only get
out of so many of them. We could guess, that maybe she is jealous, that
maybe it is harder for her to fuck her graduate students—because she can’t
figure out how to unhinge desire from wish; how to want to.



 Kathy Change (1950 - October 22, 1996) was an American performance artist and political activist who killed herself in an act of self-immolation on the University of Pennsylvania campus in 1996. Born Kathleen Chang, she legally changed her name to Kathy Change to indicate her commitment to political and social change.



for Hedgebrook


What used to be a river is now a stream

in the vast of Wyoming where I could only circle back.


While here, again in view of Ranier, a 20-year hatching

foretells the flood of moths.


I imagine you in the desert now. Fortified.

Layered up but unable to deny.


Like if I’d held the way I haven’t,

the way it sounds like I should.


Because what could I make impossible?

What, like these countless caterpillars arched and unstuck,

could cause death before cocoon?


I know why we cry for beauty when we are in it

and what it means when we don’t.



© The Acentos Review 2016