An Absolution

Cathedral bells toll midnight, end
of bacchanal, and quiet falls,
a welcome pall over revelers who seek
          Too soon, they wake and dress for work,
ignore the litter in the streets: cheap beads,
doubloons, plastic cups, cigarette butts,
sticky coins and soggy bills—real currency
amid the trampled trash.
                              They stop at church
to receive the yearly absolution,
the smudge of ash, the dark cross drawn
where hangover throbs—
          Forgive me, Father, for I have
          It was a blast!
          One for the record books!
          Sure to go down in history!

The priest’s thumb traces cross after cross,
his voice drones on. Something about dust.

In a musty room in a shotgun house, someone sobered
by the impossible reunion in her dream
dates a page, inks the loved one’s name, and writes,
          I’m sorry, please forgive me—

Guilt begets another lie.

This city trusts new rain
to clean the streets, to wash away
all sin and stain. They trust that new forgiveness
offers a clean slate, a fresh chance
to make the same mistakes.

                              Not sorry, no,
not her. She slashes through her words,
rips the letter to confetti—
                              while in the Quarter,
the first saxophone’s blue notes growl and purr:
just another busker angling for loose change.

Mythological Beasts

          She stripped off my shirt. Slipped free
of hers. Pressed breasts to breasts, heartbeat
to heart.

          Te quiero, she declared, siempre.
I wear this promise of permanence
like a tattoo

          whose ink didn’t take—
of a mythological beast that spans my back:
say, a griffin,

          even Ziz. What lasts, and what gets lost
in translation, in time? In every favorite picture,
she’s 31, smiling, fine

          lines rising between her brows. Furrows
by now, and by now she’s history, ancient and recent,
like the New Year’s

          resolution she made with me in mind—
or last night’s electrical storm. Lightning strobed
the bedroom

          windows, explosive thunder shook
the walls, and I wrestled with semantics, the easy
abuse of always

          when for this fleeting instant was the case.
She left off with nos vemos, never ventured
adios. Actions speak

          a different language, absence makes
the heart grow hard. This morning, doves flash
sun-varnished wings

          amid rain-thrashed trees, broken limbs
swim in puddles, and I hunch naked as the day
she left me,

          under the sun that burns my shoulder blades
where my wings were amputated. I search for words
that have

          one meaning in her bifurcated tongue.
I mumble of real birds, wild horses, the cutting wind,
this stone

          my heart becomes. Palomas, caballos, viente.
Diamante mío: este pobre corazón.

Rock Springs Circle

The upstairs neighbors (newlyweds; basset hound
named Elvis) laughed saying they could hear me sing
along with U2’s Achtung, Baby! I harmonized with Bono,

pretended I was singing lead. All I heard of them was
footfall—they padded barefoot on the hardwood floors,
played fetch with the galumphing dog. I heard no lovemaking,

arguments, conversation, or TV, and never music. They
weren’t like neighbors from apartments past—Janet
with her early-morning vacuuming habit or the couple

whose shrill, whiny fights ended in long bouts of violent
crying. From this sweet pair’s laughter, I gathered
nothing I did disturbed—not late-night sex or drop-ins

from my ex writing sultry ballads on my guitar. To them,
I was an alto voice set free from a recorded melody,
lyrics rising from desire marrow-deep, “One” on repeat.

MARISA P. CLARK is a queer writer who grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and came out in Atlanta. Her prose and poetry appear in Shenandoah, Cream City Review, Nimrod, Epiphany, Foglifter Journal, Prairie Fire Magazine, Rust + Moth, Sundog Lit, Air/Light, and elsewhere. Best American Essays 2011 recognized her creative nonfiction among its Notable Essays. A senior fiction reader for New England Review, she lives in New Mexico with three parrots, two dogs, and whatever wildlife and strays stop to visit.