– Poem by Olena Jennings & Photography by Marisa Astuno


“Our Lady” by Marisa Astuno



I wouldn’t change my last name.
I wanted to burrow in the letters.
I met him in the sand on Coney Island.
My hair blew into my mouth.
I wore the letters
like a veil woven together,
my wedding dress.

Creeping on the edge of the water,
we had a conversation.
Promises were washed away
by the waves. The salt water
so easily tarnished the Claire’s Boutique
ring. It was a game of pretend.

I stepped
into many lives. I sat
with a beer on the couch
of Mama’s Bar in the city and tried
to match the sound of the church choir.
I had passed out to the sound
of his elegy and lived my own retrospective.

Roses back in my hometown

When I first met him,
the amount of flowers
he gave me
made me blush,
the baby’s breath overwhelmed.
They created spots on the gray
carpeting when Aja tore
the petals off and ground them in,
marks like made-up cheeks.
Aja had taken pictures of me.
I was in black
and white. I was my spirit
self in the art studio
with the paint-splattered stools
in a gold frame.
I was loved by Aja’s camera
in Aja’s grandmother’s apartment.
The amount of flowers
he gave me
made me blush,
a dozen roses.
It was never meant to be.
He was not Aja.

The Salvation Army

I had found my wedding dress
at the Salvation Army in the suburbs
on the 49 cent rack.
The top was white
and the bottom a dark brown.
I was told it wasn’t
the real thing.

I wondered if it made me genuine
to settle for
what wasn’t repeated on so many bodies
already, the white silk and the lace,
cascading to form a texture
that would only be reminiscent
of the landscapes of my favorite places.

Aja and I had gotten the polyester-lined
boots that smelled of bad perfume.
Aja and I had gotten the blouse
with photographed fish swimming
across the chest.
Aja and I had gotten yellowed
romance novels.

My wedding dress was only 49 cents
so it could not be returned.
So I walked down the aisle
in my freshly-washed dress that still
smelled of the store, the darkness
and the threads tangled
along with spider webs on the floor.

When we visited my childhood home

He took the baby shoes
from the drawer
which held my secrets.
Next to them was the paper
weight from the Art Institute,
the flute, a little tarnished
from the company tune,
and the string of pearls.
Everything folded into a memory.
I was tearing off pieces
of the past, leaving
them with him
in the sheets.
The rain was on the pillows.
It got messy.
I gave him
the baby shoes
because they were created
in my image
because they were
all who had held me.
It was too cold to dig through
to the snow covered flowers,
to find the petals,
splashes of scarlet.

Aquarium Guilt

We married against
a background of aquariums,
neon fish
swimming like our lips
against shot glasses.
He taught me how to hook
arms and swallow.
I had been attached
to drinking before I had
been attached to him,
the warm buzzing
of the alcohol in my head,
my own thoughts there
keeping me company.
I look at the fish
as his friends start to dance,
and I wonder how
I could have ended
up so lonely. Like the fish
that tries to jump from the tank,
it was my own fault.


The ice was melting
into the water,
along its edges.
when we met.
when we separated.
I did a shoot in the snow,
my back against
the phone booth.
He would still have the pictures
of me, would post them
on social media a year later.
We would remember
the wedding as a performance.




Olena Jennings is the author of the novel Temporary Shelter, just released from Cervena Barva Press. She is also the author of the poetry collection Songs from an Apartment and the chapbook Memory Project. Her translation with Oksana Lutsyshyna of Artem Chekh’s Absolute Zero was released in 2020 by Glagoslav. She is the founder and curator of the Poets of Queens reading series. Follow her on Instagram @olenamjennings or @straydogskirts.




Marisa Astuno is a freelance photographer based in south central Kansas.  Growing up in a culturally and ethnically rich family, she developed early on a profound respect for her heritage and their beliefs regarding death and the afterlife.  In recent years, she has blended that same respect with a lifelong love of photography.  For her, searching for the transcendent beauty that lingers in centuries old cemeteries is to honor her own ancestral belief that to remember the dead is to grant them peace in the next life.