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Diane Seuss with her mentor, poet Conrad Hilberry, at Kalamazoo College

Kalamazoo's Own Diane Seuss

 

Diane Seuss is writer-in-residence at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She is the author of two books of poetry, It Blows You Hollow (New Issues Press, 1998) and Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), which won the 2009 Juniper Prize for Poetry.  She has been widely published in literary magazines on the Internet as well as in print, including such magazines as The Georgia Review, Blackbird, North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poemeleon, Brevity and Poetry, and also here at The Smoking Poet.

 

Di Seuss’ presence in Kalamazoo, however, goes far beyond her contributions to the page.  She has continued the legacy of her mentor Conrad Hilberry, by giving the gift of the word and changing lives at Kalamazoo College.  When I was a freshman at “K,” I knew I loved poetry and wanted to write it, but I didn’t think I was good enough to make a life out of it.  When I met Di, everything changed.  She gave me the courage to go after what I wanted—to claim it. Her energy has had that effect on hundreds of students, who, like me, live a fuller life because of it.  Our Kalamazoo & Beyond section in this issue begins in the imagination of a Kalamazoo powerhouse, and much of the work that follows owes a debt of gratitude to her dedication.

 

                                                                     ~ Kim Grabowski, TSP Intern Co-editor

The Poetry of Diane Seuss

 

 

My hair is swollen, it’s Mississippian, 

 

sucking the breath out of freckle-faced runaways, those boys on their rafts riding the rapids
of my midlife crisis. Curls curl, the girls beat laundry on my thrumming temple. My zillion

locks are the leashes of bloodhounds on the trail of an escapee, but there is no escaping my hair. My
mane holds more tears than water tower or civil war. It’s dammed up with drowned birds

and cannonballs. It’s bigger than the cinderblock church, more incoherent than speaking
in tongues, more desperate than salvation, more pathetic than being born again.  God is a bone-

handled brush that can’t untangle my hair. When I was young I liked to rock my soul, back
and forth, and bash my skull against the headboard. Hoo said she saw in Reader’s Digest

that’s a sign of crazy so I did it some more, I did it harder until I hairline fractured. I grabbed flagpoles
during storms and when lightning struck I smelled the saintly perfume of burning

hair. I chided boys until they pressed their guns to my tresses and squeezed the triggers. 
I was mascaraed and massacred. I rose again, dancing on my own coffin like an assassinated

president, shaking my waist-length hair. Women across the land send glittered sympathy cards about
the tragic fate of my hair. Who would covet, would hanker after, my twisted coif? 

Only the ones biting down hard on the rubber bits in their mouths, their hair cascading from
madhouse windows. The harebrained, drinking and drawing at the flung-back throat of love. 

 

 

My pants are disintegrating. Yes,

my bright pink pants. Bright pink, black tiger
stripes. The pants on which I built my new life. 
Pants I’m known for. Foundational. Infamous. 

In one day, holes. Old hungers, yawning griefs.  
Split incisions. Indecisions. Those pants, sunset
tiger striping the sky. The pink so domestic,

like girl-curtains, a canopy bed. The black
so inkish, so woman writer, so Cleopatra’s
mascara. The pink so Sappho’s vaginal whorl,

so Of Woman Born. The black so Era of Poetess
Suicides.  So Tia Maria and Seconals. It was all
so balanced, so joyous, so pitifully bifurcated,

naively bi-curious, so woozy, sleazy, back before
my pants acted all napalmed, all flesh-eating
bacteria, all sloughed-off aesthetic, all glory holed.

 

That woman, that donut shop

 

woman with the rat’s nest hair whose donuts I refused

to eat, that woman with the sick kitten smile, Chiclet

teeth, goose fat gums, her big breasts making drag-trails

in the powdered sugar like a dead body pulled through snow,

that woman whose milk I would not drink because of the brown

ring around the circumference of the glass, who scratched

her scalp with the long, curled fingernails of a corpse 

and then picked up a donut, her hand delving into the black

mesh of hair and reaching into the glass case to grab a long

john, her sickle-shaped eyes, the broken capillaries in her

cheeks like the map of unnamed rivers that hung in the back

of the barber shop, that Bertha, that Thelma, that mustached

Pearl stuck away in a cement block building that used to be

the tabernacle for crazies, that woman, filthy oracle, hand mirror.

 

Little confession

 

For a long time I thought everything
was a drag. Going to the store was a drag. 
Storehouse was a drag. Storage bin was
a drag with its pile of buffalo head nickels. 
Storage locker where we kept the shucked
off stories was a drag, and the funeral coat,
and the stack of cast-off fedoras. Hair
back then was a drag, dragging a comb
through its nests and cesspools. Seemed
like all there was to do on a Saturday night
was to drag that hook through slow brown
water trying to snag my own lost girl.

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