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The Poetry of Diane Seuss




It was the idea of the calf i loved


and not the calf though it licked me with its tongue

covered in taste buds like barnacles. I’d sleep with my head

on its warm side. Pretend to sleep. Pretend to like to be alone

though I wished I was in the fieldstone house

with the narrow winding staircase and a spigot in the wall that gushed

lemonade, playing caroms with the old folks. The calf came

with a story. It had been rejected by its mother.

I liked the idea of feeling sorry for it and tying orange ribbons

around its ears. Its black watery eye, a planet

of black water and no continents. If you sailed

that sea you’d have to sail forever. When it got the bloat and died

I invented sadness, reached down into my emptiness

like a wishing well and drew up a small wooden bucket

of tears. They knocked down the lean-to with the green tractor.

The calf was never mine, though I said it was.





Men displayed the things we didn’t want to see


but needed to see anyway, they’d put on their work

gloves and grab a bat sleeping upside down in the attic

and hold it still so we’d have to look at its small eyes

and fangs, its triangle ears like a little dog’s,

and the black fuzz on its head sticking straight up

like the minister’s baby who died from crib death, they’d

gut a fish and cut open the egg sac or take out their own

glass eyes and roll them across the table, they’d slip out

their false teeth and smile at us or lead us down

to the tracks to see the woman in the car that had been

crushed by a train, or anything born with two heads

or an eye in the center of its forehead, or the burned

velvet curtains flapping in the wind around the black

stage when the opera house burned down.




Soft pink apple covered in bees


Fingernail against zipper.

Apple covered in bees.

It’s none of my business unless I’m the apple.

As a matter of fact I am

the apple. I’m soft,
I smell like apples. I sometimes

smell like apples, dream of bees.




Today I met a man

wearing a bright white undershirt. His gold

tooth gleamed. I touched

his smooth muscle. It was like lifting a chess piece

and deciding where to lay it

down. Nearby the brown eggs waited

to be chosen and broken.

The fences between everything and everything

else crumbled as if struck by incredibly powerful

lightning. I’ve waited to be chosen and broken.

Behind him, bottles of milk stood like Ionic

columns in the Erectheum, or bridesmaids

in long cold dresses.




Lately I walk among ghosts.

Even at the store. Buoyed up

by the spirit world.

I had a choice to crush or spare

a gnat crawling on this piece

of paper. I put out my finger

and it crawled into the grooves

like a miserable man hoists

himself onto a life raft or out

of a rotten marriage. I didn’t

feel like a good person, what is

a good person, somebody

tell me. I felt almost queasy

with intimate connection.

I felt my father there, my dead

lovers and friends. Not buoying

me I guess. I wouldn’t even call it

love. They have sort of a hands-off

policy. I’m saying I have witnesses,

even though I live alone. When

I eat fruit they savor my savoring.




There’s music that goes along with this scenario,

but I can’t name it. It isn’t pretty. The guitar’s so raw it makes me

physically sick. My sternum’s missing. Heart’s unprotected.


Hissing wind. Salty rain.





Rain before the hurricane

tastes like salt, but you have to taste it

to know it, you have to let it touch you

and then you must bring it to your lips.

To know it you swallow it.


Oh I could call you darling, I could call you

baby. I could hack my way out of a drowned

house to get back to you.


Or I could stand here, briny water rising

over my nipples. Eve stood there.

She held an apple in her hand,

her palm extended like a pleasure boat.




Even in hell there are songbirds


Not just cawing but full trills, music rising like swells

on a windy ocean, each bird a chip off of some

brilliantly-colored abstraction, beaks gold as trumpets

reflecting yellow blossoms, in hell birds are free

but they are not symbolic of freedom, there are no

symbols in hell, the moonflowers open

and close their mouths but have nothing

to say, the bees sting the poppy’s heart and carry away

its black pollen, and we in our uniforms sit

in our lawn chairs and watch, we take it all in,

we let it pound us like breakers into the side of a tethered

wooden boat, we receive beauty as a nail receives

the hammer blow, and we remember our losses,

and the gains we thought were gains but were really losses,

but we cannot rub even two words together, not enough

to let loose a spark, not enough to light a fire in a thimble,

and this is the hell of it




Hopes and dreams I tell you


are nougat but there is something

else though not so sweet, no merging,

no synchrony of watches but a kind of—

well, you’ve seen a heron stand

solo in the middle of a pond,

poised, throat tilted back to feel

the dogfish swim down or a woman

at the edge of a meadow staring off,

not at something she’s achieved just

off into the unified field, or El Greco’s self

portrait from 1604, long chin resting

in the ruffled collar like a delicate bird

in a crumbling nest, ears poking out and sad

averted brown eyes his Jerónima once soothed

with her cool fingertips, lines in the forehead

rising to the yellow eggish cranium where once

the dream resided, even El Greco, wealthy

enough to hire musicians to play while they dined, alone

at last in the frame like an owl hunched on a tree limb

or a small white cat moving through the Rose

of Sharon at 3 a.m. or a woman racked with grief

stumbling toward the kitchen in her sour bedclothes

to eat white cherries straight from the can.




Don’t say Paris


No one says Paris anymore.

There’s no such thing as Paris, no

Café de la Paix, no Titian’s Entombment


 in the Louvre or Hotel La Sanguine

with amaranth petals on the sheets.  Don’t

say Paris.  When you utter the word


 I take off my long red gloves.  I prepare

my hands to be stroked.  I’m an idiot

that way, a Parisian to the bone.  Once,


on some Rue or other, I was not alone.

The city, blue.  My black coat opened

and gave birth to my body as I walked.


You dare speak of Paris?  You unlatch

the door in the cage, that word comes

blooming out, orange feathers ignite


the room.  My room the color of sage

in fog.  And now, Paris, breaking

the mirrors, exposing the cobbled


alleyways behind them.  Who says

Paris?  Now I swirl my nipples

with Le Rouge Baiser.  Or did you


mean Paris, Kentucky?  Or just Paris

 a word tossed off like an exploding peony

dropped from the swaying top of that tall


steel tower?  Paris, a bitter word,

a word to be spit into a lace handkerchief

like the pit of some pink-fleshed fruit, 


stolen from the garden of the rich, in whose

sweetness a woman like me can drown.

Paris, where I loved and suffered, where 


the enemy flag opened and flared, poppy

with a spider inside.  Liberation, another

suspicious bit of language, a perfumed


envelope holding no letter.  Paris, you say. 

I have shut down the Office de Tourisme,

covered the windows with flowering vines, 


casting those rooms in purple light. 

I have wrapped my lips around that word

until it throbbed like Bouguereau’s 


La Madone aux Roses.




There’s always one on the driveway, featherless,


transparent stomach fat as a coin purse.  Beak too big for its face, like a baby

wearing huge sunglasses.  Tuft of white fuzz, oh darling old man.  Always


one on the driveway, bankrupt, almost there but not there enough. I’ve seen

mama cowbird, angular in her cold-eyed flight.  I like her version of love.  No


heart involvement.  One dies, little sack of guts on the driveway. A few live

to open their gold mouths and yearn.  Long eyes glued shut.  I used to wake


glue-eyed when we lived in that shack in Three Oaks.  My mother would

have to wash my eyelids open with warm boric acid.  What a house.  The mice


leaped over the Tinker Toys with glee.  I’d get up early and run across

the street to the Warburton’s house.  I was young enough to still be wearing


rubber pants, my nipples the size of buffalo head nickels. The delicious part

was the graham crackers and the pet bird perched on the tray of the high chair


pecking at Cheerios.   We lived so close to the elementary school that my sister

could see our mother hanging clothes on the line from the playground.  She’d


stand at the chain link fence wailing a stream of screaming blackbirds

out of the hole in her face that was bigger than she was.  A homesick girl,


and already wasps were invading her underpants on the clothesline. 

You’ve read Dante’s Inferno.  Meanwhile, I got goose bumps from watching


Mrs. Warburton wander around the house singing the Miss America theme

song in a half slip and bra, her orange hair combed with a Mixmaster.  Don’t


worry; I would enter hell soon enough, sizzling on the pavement that passed

for a playground.  One slide, the stairs missing.  My first science project


was on the Baltimore Oriole.  I got third place because they said an adult

must have helped me bring down the nest from the tree.  True.  Also,


my father made the poster stand.  This was just after they found his first

tumor.  Who can blame him for being overly invested in his little girl’s


triumph?  My final science project was on the anatomy of the heart.  I was

twelve, a beautiful age, proud to wear my shirttail out and call myself a slob.


My mother picked up the warm calf heart from the slaughterhouse.  Set it

into my cupped hands even before she took off that ratty green jacket. 


This was her way, whether she loved me or not.  I fell for the word ventricle,

thankful for doom. Index finger traced the blood path, fairy tale alley


strewn with bread crumbs erased by birds.


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