Chloe N. Clark

Chloe N. Clark holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Environment. She teaches multimodal composition, communication, and creative writing. Her poetry and fiction has appeared such places as Apex, Bombay Gin, Drunken Boat, Gamut, Hobart, Uncanny, and more. She writes columns for Nerds of a Feather, and can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes. Her chapbook The Science of Unvanishing Objects was published by Finishing Line Press and her debut full length poetry collection, Your Strange Fortune, was published by  Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. She has a poetry chapbook, Under My Tongue, forthcoming from Louisiana Literature Press. She is also founding co-editor-in-chief of Cotton Xenomorph.

“FIND THE PATTERNS”: A Review of Chloe N. Clark’s Collective Gravities by James McAdams

To lift one particularly apposite description of a character in “Like the Desert Dark,” Chloe N. Clark “likes thinking about 'ifs.’” Collective Gravities, her third collection (The Science of Unvanishing Objects, Finishing Line Press; Your Strange Fortune, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), posits a world replete with paranormality. Like a symphony, these stories repeatedly touch upon the same subjects, explored, revealed, and experienced from a diverse variety of narrative perspectives. We can represent the frequency and range of this symphonic collection numerically.                    

Subjects (admittedly subjective):

# Stories these subjects occur in:

astronauts/paranormal investigation


undiagnosed illness/epidemics


near-death/no-death phenomena


mental illness




magic/card tricks


jumping off bridges




ecological disaster


The horrors of online dating

1 (!)


There’s something oddly soothing about this thematic accretion. As you read further into the collection, you continually confront these motifs, creating a limpid “repetition with a difference” feeling. It’s subtle, but it works. It’s like wading into a pool, stepping slowly, freezing at first, and then once you're immersed in it, the swimming is captivating and you forget for a second what it was like to be back on the shore, dry.

For example, the collection is bookended by two pieces about astronauts convening at a memorial for a deceased member of their operation team (“Balancing Beams,” and “Between the Axis and the Stars,” respectively). Both memorials stress the significance of remembering and storytelling as a way to deal with death. The second story foregoes an actual traditional memorial, instead placing the characters in a room with the grieving Mom of their friend, where they simply tell stories about the deceased. “Between the Axis and the Stars” (and the collection as a whole) ends here, in a country field in Iowa:

“After, I walked outside to find Peter. He was sitting in the grass, staring up at the night sky.

'We don’t have stars like this in Boston.'

I sat down beside him, laughing. 'You’ve literally been to the stars, why do you need to see them from so far away?'

'I can see them all at once like this. Find the patterns.'”

My two favorite stories, both concerning the power of referentless words, are quiet pieces of flash, published initially in Noble/Glass Quarterly and Bartleby Snopes (R.I.P.!!). In “This is the Color of Your Eyes in the Dark,” the narrator, informed of the sudden death of a girl she was briefly friends with in middle school, remembers:

“When we went to Mindy’s house, we always took long walks in the trees behind her house instead of going inside. She’d tell me the names of each tree. Not like the scientific names, but the names she’d given them. I asked her why she named them and she answered me, as if it was the silliest question in the world, ‘don’t you like to say the names of your friends’? Her favorite was a pine that had been struck by lightning. An arc of scarring went down one side of it. She would put her hand against the mark and just hold it there, eyes closed, as if she was trying to heal it.” 

Meanwhile, in “Topographical Cartography,” a woman’s boyfriend begins to suffer from a vague, ill-defined disease (see above) whose symptoms are the appearance of an X-axis along his back, and then the appearance along the axis of “words and symbols. Under each dash: ‘sugar,’ ‘Oak,’ ‘fine,’ a picture of an eclipse, more and more words without context.” Then, after he dies, the narrator awakens to find a similar pattern of words and symbols on her back, only this time as a Y-axis. This is a numinous description of love. I mean if I know anything about love from watching TV: one person’s X fitting into another person’s Y.

Paranormality probably isn’t a good description of Collective Gravities, since it sounds like X-Files fanfiction. Magical realism doesn’t work, because the stories here are too realistic, too detailed (in a good way); neither does surrealism work, since the plots and narratives are tightly controlled and cogent. If we wanted to coin a term for the “slanted truth” nature of this collection, that term could be pulled from the collection’s first story. The narrator describes a painting hanging on the wall. “The colors were slightly off,” she writes, “leaves a blue-green and bark a red-brown that wouldn’t exist in nature.” The characters discuss what’s wrong with the painter, suggesting she’s color blind among other things. Ultimately, they determine the word for it, and for Collective Gravities, is “Almreal...almost real, not quite, not surreal.”

Furthermore, it works organically, meaning it doesn’t feel like marketing agenda or strategic little phrased inserted in pre-publication to make the collection seem “whole” or “novel-like,” like those collections marketed as “inter-linked short stories” with the same character(s) or place. Those are mostly bullshit excuses to make something look like a novel.

Possibly Irrelevant Addendum I Couldn’t Fit Into the Review: Two cool facts I learned while researching Chloe Clark and word west press. 1) Chloe, part of the editorial triumvirate of Cotton Xenomorph with Tea and Hanna, has designed a class on the literature of space. Enrollment is open, check it out here. 2) word west press, in recognition of Chloe’s affection for space, actually bought her a star. That’s awesome. Great work Chloe and word west press!

Pick up a copy of Chloe Clark's Collective Gravities here!



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He told me he didn’t believe in witches. We were on the floor of my apartment, half undressed while he used one hand to unbutton my jeans, when he said it. Out of nowhere. 

“I don’t believe in witches, you know,” he said. He began kissing down my neck, hand slipping beneath my jeans.

“What do you mean?” I asked. My own hand slid down his stomach. He let out a short exhale of air.

“Like everyone told me you were a witch before we hooked up,” he said. I could hear the excitement behind his words, the thought of being with a witch edging against his desire to make him seem different from all the others who wanted me, talked about me. 

I didn’t speak for a moment, tracing my fingers against the skin of his stomach before moving my hand lower on his body. He was warm, and I could smell the faint ache of sweat on him. 

“They said watch out for her,” he continued. “They said you’d want something from me. That you’d only like it if you could get something from me.”

I applied a little more pressure with my fingers. He pulled in his breath. His own hand slowing. I wondered how much I could make him want me. There’s a pleasure in being wanted. Though nothing near to the pleasure of what I want from them—that slow unspool of darkness. I shifted away from him and began to kiss every inch of his skin. My tongue on his skin. I could taste his sweat. It was salty at first and then it was the coffee he’d drunk at work—sharp, slightly over-extracted espresso, that hint of latex. I went lower down his body, past his stomach, his back arching slightly. There was a memory in him, that he didn’t even know he’d kept, of earlier in the day, he’d been watching a woman across the street talking to her child. The woman was crouched so that she and the child were at the same height. Her coat was bright red, a dark blue scarf, and he’d remembered his mother once scolding him at a park. She’d stood above him, never deigning to be at his level. He didn’t remember her words. I ran my hands up his thighs, pushing the memory out of his body. I knew he’d never know it was gone. I wanted him thinking of only one thing. He needed to only be here in this moment, this pleasure. The dark should be the furthest from his mind. That’s how I’ve always liked it. I needed to be able to take what he wasn’t watching, a magician who keeps your eye on the wrong card.

He said my name. I used my tongue, my lips. He lost his words. I, on the other hand, had a thousand languages at my disposal. I’d learned how to shape my tongue so many ways, knew how to use it to make others speak to me. I moved my tongue, shaped my lips, made his body yell to me.

He had this recurring nightmare that he woke up on an island in the middle of nowhere. There was no one else there. He wandered around and around, calling out the names of everyone he’d ever known. No one answered. And then someone did. Some voice called out from beneath the sand. It begged him to run. Run away. So he tried. He’d run to the water’s edge and try to get in it, to swim away, but he couldn’t. The water would be glass or boiling hot or freezing, freezing cold. But he’d try, he’d keep trying, as the voice kept screaming for him to run and he’d know something was coming for him. Something that he’d never want to know. 

This I liked. I held it closer to myself, letting it slip into my skin, run its darkness into my blood. It felt so good flooding my body, down to the tips of my toes.

He was so close to release. His whole body thrummed with it. And then he said, “Wait.”

I stopped.

He said, “I didn’t believe them.”

And I knew what he meant, how much he thought everyone was telling lies about me but that he’d hoped they weren’t but didn’t want to give in to believing. Men like him loved witches, loved that hint of danger. I knew how much he’d wanted me. I could feel it on him—it came off of him like a bit of extra warmth, standing too close to the fire on too cold of days. 

I moved again, long enough to say, “Shhh.”

He nodded. There was sweat pooled in the hollow of his throat, it glistened. In that light, he was more than beautiful. 

Of course, everyone was, when I’m there with them, when I’m pulling the darkness from their bodies. They look so filled with light if only for a moment.

I used my tongue, shaped my lips around him. I spoke a thousand words he wouldn’t hear, just my tongue tracing the letters, rolling the syllables. 

The words let everything he’d ever been scared of into my body. It filled me up so quick. Everyone carried so many tiny fears. They cascaded into me, every part of me was so filled with him. There was so much power in knowing every darkest corner, every monster under the bed.

And then his body went still, only his fast breathing, heart pounding to show he was still there.

I lay beside him. Everything ached in that pleasurable way, like after running a marathon. Time spent well. Sometimes, often if I was honest, I wondered what it was like for them. If afterwards, they went out knowing what I’d taken. If they felt lighter or if it didn’t feel like anything at all. To go into the world, unafraid, must feel like something.

“What are you?” he asked, smiling.

“I’m a witch,” I said. But he didn’t believe me. They never believed in witches really.

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