Marisa P. Clark ~ Four Poems


Say there’s an acci­dent, a wreck I’m in
but didn’t cause. Say I hit my head, hard,
and see a blind­ing baf­fle­ment of stars
I can’t blink away. Say I try to stand
but dizzi­ness sits me back down. I wait
wob­bling at the side of the road I cruised
along, stunned at the crunched hood, the mess
of glass and man­gled chrome, the bumper gone.
Say an EMT shines a light to test
my pupils—will they pin and dilate? Say
some­one takes my state­ment: What hap­pened here?
Say I’m too dazed to say. Blood pres­sure runs
riot. Skin shiv­ers with a bone-deep shake.
So some­one asks me if I know what day
it is, where I am, and who (please make it
stop) the pres­i­dent is. I say this day
is any of a thou­sand-plus past the eighth
of November 2016, the place
a snare of lim­i­nal space, but I refuse
to speak the hat­ed name. I was going
about my busi­ness, coast­ing down a road
I thought I knew. Now every day’s the same
con­cus­sion, com­ing to, and calculation
of oth­er routes I could have taken—even a split
second’s swerve might have changed the course
of his­to­ry (which nev­er unspools like a smooth,
bright rib­bon of free­way, no). But backward
look­ing won’t undo the dam­age. Better face
the true cause for alarm: why I can’t see
this crash com­ing. It always hits head-on.


How It Was

Those who told you
the swal­lowed seed would grow
into a water­mel­on inside

you lied. You sneaked

seeds onto your spoon
every time you ate the lurid pink,
then stud­ied your girl

fig­ure, learned to stuff

your throat with fin­gers & puke
away the con­vex­i­ty that never
took shape. When you grew

up, I became anoth­er you

con­sumed. You devoured
me, peel & flesh & core
& stone you stash

deep with­in, a sweet

secret, a taboo. When
my name comes up, you choke
it down like shame & feel it

fling against the hun­gry places,

a con­stant growl that reminds you
how free­ing it once was to feed,
be filled, be full, fulfilled.



Our plan­et stayed its course,
trav­el­ing the galaxy in peace.
Eons passed. Then a dis­tant disk
rose into view, its blue-green
grayed by pol­lu­tants, nebulae,
and space waste. It spun and traced
a dumb, slow cir­cle. We had no
choice but stay the course. Its cool
col­ors formed what humans call
a face; its atmos­phere turned
vicious maw that sucked us in
and set our stone ablaze. The impact
smashed us into bits like shrapnel
shot across its desert shell. It killed
us all.
Except for me.
I lived
to see the shards of our asteroid
made into muse­um displays
and sou­venirs, the deep­est scar
a tourist trap where humans stand
to gawk and pose for photographs
before com­plain­ing of the heat
and mov­ing on. And how they love
to spec­u­late in the name of science
and con­spir­a­cy: our facts recast
as fab­u­lism. I know better
than to set them straight. People
won’t be taught a dif­fer­ent point
of view. They see a crater as a hole
in the ground, not a graveyard,
not a civ­i­liza­tion lost. And though
some search for signs of life
like theirs, they won’t find me.
Someone has to stay the course:
to mourn, to keep our history.


Pants: An Autobiography


The Christmas I was five, I got my first pair
of zip­pered pants, stitched cow­boy style,
cobalt blue, a sky blue shirt to match. I tugged
them on and ran, excit­ed, to the bathroom.
I stood before the toi­let and unzipped. The pee
would not come. The key was not the zipper.


Every year—year in, year out—my grand­moth­er frowned
and warned, “If you don’t start wear­ing dresses,
your legs are going to take the shape of pants.”
Did she think my legs might bell­bot­tom one year,
peg the next, obey fashion’s fick­le dictates?
Or was she look­ing past the pants and legs
at the unla­dy­like slice of space
where they didn’t meet, the absence between
those two shape­ly but odd-shaped parentheses,
the noth­ing they enclosed, the emptiness?
She frowned at noth­ing. No thing.
At what I lacked, not what I had.


A favorite high school teacher signed my senior
year­book, “Try to please your moth­er. Wear
a dress now and then.” Her advice was overthrown
on Graduation Day, when a local pop D.J.
ded­i­cat­ed “Forever in Blue Jeans” to St. Martin’s class
of ’81. I was speed­ing down the beach highway,
salt air rip­ping in through open win­dows. I cranked
the vol­ume and sang, top of my lungs—
I’d much rather be…—Neil Diamond’s uncool song,
my new anthem. I felt vin­di­cat­ed, free.


Now for a par­tial résumé of my accomplishments
in pants. I received my high­er education
entire­ly in pants: three degrees, two in English, the first
in psy­chol­o­gy. In pants, I shelved library magazines,
ran errands for a law firm, and typed mail­ing labels
for the local Catholic church. In pants,
I sold books at Border’s in Atlanta and wished
the cus­tomers a good day. I designed ads
and proof­read copy for two typog­ra­phy and graphics
shops, always in pants. The Centers for Disease
Control employed me sev­en years and sev­er­al months
to put on pants and pro­vide research
doc­u­ments to med­ical pro­fes­sion­als and scientific
types. Currently, I wear pants to teach
col­lege English: cre­ative writ­ing, comp, queer lit.


Last time I wore a dress was 1996,
Halloween to be exact. I dressed
as Patsy Stone of Ab Fab fame:
a leg­gy, chain-smok­ing, Stoli-slugging,
mid­dle-aged, sex-always-on-the-brain
drag queen’s dream. To com­plete the transformation,
I caked make­up on my face, spun
the long strands of a plat­inum-blond wig
into a high-piled swirl, and donned
sheer black hose, high heels, a silk blouse,
and a black pen­cil skirt—all borrowed.
At the cos­tume par­ty, no one rec­og­nized me,
but when she saw the photos
from that night, my moth­er said how beautiful
I looked…. Need I say more about
what a drag it is for me to wear a dress?


Marisa P. Clark is a queer writer from the South whose work appears or will appear in Cream City Review, Nimrod, Epiphany, Foglifter, Potomac Review, Rust + Moth, Louisiana Literature, and else­where. Shenandoah recent­ly pub­lished the first chap­ter of her nov­el Hermosa, which has been a final­ist in sev­er­al first-book con­tests. In 2011, Best American Essays rec­og­nized her cre­ative non­fic­tion among its Notable Essays, and twice, she won Agnes Scott College Writers’ Festival Prizes (in fic­tion, 1996; in non­fic­tion, 1997). A fic­tion-read­er for New England Review, she makes her home in New Mexico with three par­rots and two dogs. Her first name is pro­nounced Ma-REE-sa.