On the Way to the Store...

Martha Clarkson

Martha Clarkson

On the Way to the Store was accepted as part of the MSU Library Short Edition call for work on the theme of “recovery,” in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibit of Beverly Fishman's art, also called Recovery. Martha Clarkson's writing and photography can be found in F-Stop, Seattle Review, Portland Review, Black Box Gallery, Tulane Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Feminine Rising, Nimrod, Tipton Poetry Journal, Rattle and many more. "Her Voices, Her Room" won the short story prize from Open City/Anderbo. She has two notable short stories in Best American Short Stories. Martha attended University of Oregon's Creative Writing Program, and was a past poetry editor for Word Riot. www.marthaclarkson.com

On the Way to the Store that Sold Cigarettes to Minors, 1975

She could've been ten
or eighteen
it was impossible to tell
from across the street
"the retard" we called her
involuntarily flinging her arms
from the low porch steps
of the green bungalow

and us inseparable pack of four girls
we could've been ten
or eighteen
passing our permit tests
and other times blowing
bubbles in our milk glasses
we involuntarily flung ourselves
at the universe

passing her house was part fear
as if she'd rise up and give chase
and part fascination
that someone not like us
but so like us
dared display her affliction in public
and what was her affliction after all
we had no idea, we called anyone different
a "retard," even just plain dumb boys
of which there were plenty

sometimes my stomach
felt like nails being pounded
I pitied so many things I ran across
the cat having its tail pulled
the girl who bled onto white shorts
in class and had to go home
the girl on the porch

of course I didn't say this
it was too soft a feeling
when we claimed to own the world
strutting the sidewalks in our platforms
big comb handles sticking out
of our back pockets

owning the world meant smoking
in the Winchell's parking lot
cupping your cig when it rained
it meant not telling
when the science teacher asked you
to stay after alone in the portable
it meant not trying
for things you couldn't win
so you'd never be a loser

maybe our fear of the girl on the porch
for she was, in fact, a girl, with bangs
and a bowl cut and an ironed yellow dress
was because we thought of how it could've been us
just as easily how fortunate we were

but no it was just us gawking
like we knew a secret
which always made us feel superior
our cig packs hidden in our knee socks
under our bellbottoms
walking tough and swallowing
our future shames

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