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.