Who wants to be soft? I don't. I've even seen a hermit crab
outgrow its shell and drag its perilous softness into a doll's head.
Crab, I empathize. As a kid, I fed my big baby doll's bare foot
into a rotating fan blade. I wasn't mean, not at all. Inquisitive.
Doll donated her toe to science. I mixed potions: iodine, nightshade,
and some incongruity like a few drops of dad's aftershave. He was
dead by then, but there was a quarter of a bottle of Aqua Velva
in the medicine chest, which I used sparingly. I wasn't planning to poison
anyone, even my sister, who showed me how to harden up by folding
her arms across her chest and scowling at dad's abdominal tumor.
Our mom slammed the door and drove to Lake Michigan. I pictured her
making her way into the sheltering undertow. The Rev. Larry Whiteford
sang "When the Gates Swing Open" at the funeral, and the three of us
sat there like Mt. Rushmore. Anyway, dad was a softie, Jesus, a softie.
I have slept in many places, for years on mattresses that entered
my life via nothing but luck, as a child on wet sheets, I could not
contain myself, as a teen on the bed where my father ate his last
pomegranate, among crickets and chicken bones in ditches, in the bare
grass on the lavish grounds of a crumbling castle, in a flapping German
circus tent, in a lean-to, my head on the belly of a sick calf, in a terrible
darkness where a shrew tried to stay afloat in a bucket of well water,
in a blue belfry, on a pink couch being eaten from the inside by field mice,
on bare floorboards by TV light with Mikel on Locust Place, on an amber
throne of cockroach casings, on a carpet of needles from a cemetery pine,
in a clubhouse circled by crab-apple trees with high-school boys who are
now members of a megachurch, in a hotel bathtub in St. Augustine after
a sip from the Fountain of Youth, cold on a cliff’s edge, passed out cold
on train tracks, in a hospital bed holding my lamb like an army of lilacs.
Poetry, the only father, landscape, moon, food, the bowl
of clam chowder in Nahcotta, was I happy, mountains
of oyster shells gleaming silver, poetry, the only gold,
or is it, my breasts, feet, my hands, index finger,
fingernail, hangnail, paper cut, what is divine, I drove
to the sea, wandered aimlessly, I stared at my tree, I said
in my mind there’s my tree, there’s my tree I said in my mind,
I remember myself before words, thrilled at my parents’
touch, opened milkweed with no agenda, blew the fluff,
no reaching for comparison, to be free of signification,
wriggle out of the figurative itchy sweater, body, breasts,
vulva, little cave of the uterus, clit, need, touch, come, I came
before I knew what coming was, iambic pentameter, did I
feel it, does language eclipse feeling, does it eclipse the eclipse.
-from frank: sonnets (Graywolf Press, 2021), selected by POW Spring 2021 Guest Editor, Cyrus Cassells.
Diane Seuss was born in Indiana and raised in Michigan. She earned a BA from Kalamazoo College and an MSW from Western Michigan University. Seuss is the author of the poetry collections frank: Sonnets (2021); Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (2018); Four-Legged Girl (2015), finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (2010), winner of the 2009 Juniper Prize for Poetry; and It Blows You Hollow (1998). Her work has appeared in Poetry, the Georgia Review, Brevity, Able Muse, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and the Missouri Review, as well as The Best American Poetry 2014. She was the MacLean Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of English at Colorado College in 2012, and she has taught at Kalamazoo College since 1988.