Our hair is large. It contains multitudes

of pins and nits and bows. Our bodies are wrong but coherent.

 

Love is our mission,

the wedding, our modus operandi, our peep show and opera.

Once it’s over, our beauty’s spent.

 

The fiancée is not so much human as integer.

If the wedding’s in winter, with fur

sewed to the cuffs of all formal wear,

by spring the corset bones are exposed.

 

June’s the unlucky month.

All the county’s porcupines are intent

on puncturing the dream.

 

When the freezer shuts down, we lose

the side of beef, top of the cake and the bouquet.

For a minute there, everything looks

freshly killed or baked or picked.

We’re dizzied by the raw scent of tea roses.

 

Autumn’s when the bruises show.

Kicked by a horse, we’ve said for generations.

Same horse, dumb, unsaddled, glass-eyed, white,

with ludicrous fire flaring from the nostrils.

 

Weirdly, when our noses are broken and our houses

foreclosed, that’s when things get good.

 

We die on our Harleys, driving too fast on unnamed roads.

Our bodies fly backwards, nostalgic

for a past that never happened.

 

Our souls stay with the bike, moving

forward through cattails and day lilies.

 

***

 

We’re leery of books, the way they colonize

the imagination, and films, which infiltrate dreams,

though at times we’ll flock to movies with explosions,

for explosions clean out the carburetors of ourselves,

unless we’re pregnant, for movie explosions

have been known to cause miscarriages.

Those of us haunted by war

will sometimes turn to books to combat nightmares,

choosing, from the shelves of the old library,

the weightiest, the ones with a thousand pages,

as if the object of the book, held close, could replace

a dead comrade, and maybe it can, at least for the hours

and days it takes to mouth each word like a newborn

pig mouths the line of tits on its mother’s belly.

 

***

 

There’s that man again, a former soldier,

and once a soldier always a soldier, the one

 

with the terrible limp who slurs his words

into a new language, grotesque,

 

though we nod and furrow our brows in understanding,

for we do understand the intention beneath the words.

 

He’s reading War and Peace again, but this time

from back to front, and so he refers to it, in his mind,

 

as Peace and War. We can tell by his wry smile.

He’s known for his wry smile.

 

The rest of us prefer what lies below what is called art,

the source of art, the raw field and not the story of the field,

 

and love, even when it’s guttural,

especially when it’s guttural and married to suffering,

 

which we trust.

We’re told to read the Bible but the Bible is another book,

 

and halfway through Genesis we feel as if we’re back in school,

stuffed into our desks watching some teacher

 

murmur on endlessly about things that happened

far away from here,

 

when all we want is to be home wearing our muddy field boots,

sitting on an upended bucket, shelling peas.

 

***

 

Our memories are local, acute, and unrelenting.

Our hope is to quash them. Fields invite them,

and fog. So out of the brume that rises up

from snow in the spent vineyards comes a man

 

back from war, singing as he used to sing, such

large notes out of a small, skeptical mouth. Later

his liver swells up like he is with child. And drifting

out of the burned field, that couple who lived

 

by the train tracks, their house smelling of pitch

from the wooden ties, and of mutt, from the line-up

of terriers they used in their trained dog act,

which they displayed in shabby, off-brand

 

traveling circuses throughout the Midwest. Once

even Texas. Harry and Jessie. Some of us never

laid eyes on them and still we’re saddled with them.

Saddled, as if we’re the horse and memory the heavy

 

rider. We remember the hound whose smooth warm

head we never stroked, whose relentless howling

was quashed by a can of pork and beans thrown

from an upstairs window, who keeled over dead

 

and was buried by the gravedigger, as a favor,

to pay a debt of which the less is said the better,

Dan, the hound, who resurrected the next morning,

used his fat paws and thick, black toenails to dig

 

his way out of his own grave, whose sad bay persisted

for years, long past his actual death, and still persists.

It has become a burdensome song we hum

sometimes while nursing the sick or doing dishes.

 

***

 

We wear our hairdos long and tumbled back like vine pours weighty

down a chain-link fence. We go at times unwashed to craft

that warm green stink of algae-covered inland pond and grass-fed

cud. With the contents of one box and one can, we bake something

so sweet and gold you’ll want to marry the pan. In this way

we are alchemical. If it’s pretty, we taxidermy our kill.

Here, a bear bigger than a travel trailer. There, an unnested baby

swallow small enough for the apex of a teacake. When asked

directions, we reference the red chickens, though they scatter. Turn

 

right at the red chickens or left or if you see the red chickens you’ve

gone too far. We believe in the mortuary sciences and chip in

to charmingly lay out our dead in yellow silk as if they were lovely

and rich. At viewings, we talk about their mouths, how any moment

a word could come spilling out. Our decisions are poor, our work ethic

unfledged, our children are cockleburs in the far field, their branches,

terminal. In our midst, a woman who dances until her pudenda

is raw, which she announces from the top of the empty water tower.

 

 

 

 

Diane Seuss
’s most recent collection, Four-Legged Girl, is forthcoming in October 2015 from Graywolf Press. Her second book, Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, won the Juniper Prize and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2010. Her first collection, It Blows You Hollow, was published by New Issues Poetry and Prose in 1998. She has received a Pushcart Prize, and a poem originally published in The Missouri Review appeared in The Best American Poetry 2014. Her poetry and brief prose have appeared in many literary magazines, including Poetry, The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, and The Missouri Review. Her work has received awards from Indiana Review, Quarter After Eight, Mid-American Review, and the Summer Literary Seminars contest. Seuss is Writer in Residence at Kalamazoo College.
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