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
Except for me.
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,
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.