How I Learned to Make Maps by Marie Cartier


I went into the unknown world with glasses

that made everything so clear I could

move through this world into the next.

Before I got my glasses…I didn’t see the way I could step to the edge,

put out my hand, split the known world and

go through: into the unknown.

I became someone without history.

Those rooms with my father, those times, those days, then nights.

Those stories …

Incest really is not a word that describes anything.

It does not describe the way the body splinters and then the known world separates and

when the known world separates, when all you know is you splitting,

 all you see is clouds.

So, I got glasses and I walked to the very edge of the flat world and stepped through.

Oh, I said, the world is round… is round is round. I started circling the round world

to find my hero, my Self.

I was alone, but my glasses were sparkling clean.


I prayed to Mary Mother of Jesus, to believe me because I couldn’t get to Jesus.

Mary was the intermediary. But I didn’t hear from her so I prayed to St. Jude, impossible.

I lit seven-day candles and put my fifty cents in the ritual slot with the candles flickering. I went to confession. I heard the priest gasp and ask me to tell him more about my …wants.

I held a glow in the dark rosary at night. Its unearthly green supposed to comfort me, like the white purse with the tiny Bible that had no room for anything—useful.

I dipped my hand in the Holy Water and stopped by the Baptismal font knowing I had been blessed there when I was new, but I couldn’t remember that or find that blessing.

I stopped by St. Joseph hoping to see him use his staff for good.

And I bent my small knees to the worn kneeler. And I took the Communion into my own, to my own body as if it could make a difference. As if it could heal me.


When I think about all the things, I could have carried with me, I wouldn’t have thought I should grab roach killer. But roaches live in cities and that is where I was headed.

I was headed to a damp apartment where when I turned on the lights a hundred roaches scattered across the kitchen counter.

Once when I ate breakfast a mouse ran up my pant leg. And the apartment manager broke into our apartment and threatened my sister when I was away.

It was always a rape, it seemed then, and now, so I kept my magic glasses handy and wrote poems on the other side of real.

I wrote a way out and kept roach killer handy and sprayed it where I needed it.


A blessing can be a lesson, but you have to let it happen. When the blessing splashes at Easter, when they flick the Holy Water, you decide to let that be the opening to the unknown.

To be re-born. Renewed. To feel the splat of water hit from the palm leaves and let the water trickle down your face.

I let go of my mother’s hands. I adjusted my glasses. I was not going to marry a man.

I was not going to stay in a small town. I was not going to work at the super market where the manager propositioned me, when I was only sixteen and he was over fifty. I was not going to stay behind the diner smoking cigarettes laced with mescaline while we stood as close as we could get to the train, as it rushed past us without stopping, inches from my face.

 I was invincible as I went through my days with my sparkling glasses made of words,

of images,

and a college application.


My father beat me, and said I couldn’t go somewhere he had not gone. I was on the ground and he yelled loud to put the idea in my head couldn’t… shouldn’t.

But what I heard was You’re right. I shouldn’t be here.

If I could say something to him now, I would say, you were right.

I didn’t belong, your queer daughter. Your artist daughter.

Who would stretch her wings, and go. You held the scissors and thought to cut my wings so

I would stay and stay and stay. You spread my legs, but I spread my wings, that’s a fact.

I don’t want the poem to be about you, Dad.

And if this poem doesn’t make sense, it’s because there is too much, too much

for me to ever share.

And if it makes sense, it is because there is so much, I do share.


My father wanted to be an artist and a photographer and he carried a gun in photos and went out into the woods to cut down his own Christmas tree.

He had his own land. He was told not to speak his language and joined a gang. I was told not to speak his language, that we would be hated for it.

He yelled at me over and over, “When you’re eighteen, out.” I was six when he yelled that; I hid in the coats hanging by the cellar stairs, his voice a hurricane. Seven, eight, nine, ten…hiding.


My father bought me my first deck of tarot cards. If I could have pulled a card for him then,

I would have pulled the Fool. I would have told him to trust the beginning.

I would have told him I was leaving anyway. And that later, he would wish I would come back.

I was eighteen, and I was gone, gone, gone.

And he would write to me and ask me to come home, and tell me…I was his favorite.

I pull a card for myself now and I pull the High Priestess.

Then I pull the Moon, the five of cups and the Star. I am a wish fulfilled. I am a wish fulfilled.

I wished to see the world split so I could walk through what was known to what was unknown

Unknown: my body is mine

Unknown: my time is mine

Unknown: my voice is mine

Unknown: my spirit is mine

Unknown: my work is mine.


I pulled back from the known world and closed the split.

I made the unknown world known, to me.

I became a mapmaker.

I charted roads and highways and cities with poems.

I filled oceans with my sex.

I made roads with lovers’ names:

Beautiful Drive. Babe Way.


I colored in all the geography and made it pocket size.

And I’m still charting geography.

I love the word cartography, the making of maps.

Because I’m still walking away, Dad, even though you are dead.

And I am alive.

I am so fucking alive.

–Marie Cartier

California, May 2021

With thanks to Cuties LA Poetry Workshop and instructor Xavier (@cutiesla; @truxav)


Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.  She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.

Categories: General, Mary, Poetry, Women's Agency, Women's Voices

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9 replies

  1. This should not happen. This should nor happen to anyone. Bless you for finding your way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Incredible writing. I was deeply moved reading this. ❤️ What a treacherous landscape you were forced to navigate so young — your maps are precious guides for all of us.


  3. I’m enraged – this should not happen and it does, it does, it does and the splitting goes on…How courageous you are.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow–all that, and you survived! Hooray for your magic glasses. Hooray for your determination. Hooray for your maps and your larger, wider cartography. Hooray that you’re still alive! Bright blessings, my sister–and keep going! Women need a whole encyclopedia of your maps so we can all navigate through our various lives. And share your crayons, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Searing and inspiring. Your words reach a depth that speaks absolute truth and are a guiding way finder for all of us. Thank you for posting your wonderful poems here at FAR!


  6. Such a powerful poem, Marie. And it wasn’t about your dad. It was about being able to see through the Big Lie about women and finding your own voice, your own body on the other side of the necessary split that his harm created. I love the mapmaking metaphor. We feminists are all creating a new cartography of the lives of women. Yay!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You are a mighty spirit indeed, and your divinity shines through powerful and bright and clear. This line really spoke to me: “A blessing can be a lesson, but you have to let it happen. When the blessing splashes at Easter, when they flick the Holy Water, you decide to let that be the opening to the unknown.” … I find myself more and more understanding that it isn’t the source of the blessing that matters – which religion or which holy leader or which place or writer or culture — it is the reception of it, decision to find wisdom and blessing and power that I can use, and to take them and use them, whatever I want to take and use, whatever feels healing and liberating for me. It sounds to me as though you have found your way with grace and beauty despite mountainous burdens put upon you. Bless your continued liberation.


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