If you often find yourself at a loss for words
or don’t know what to say to those you love,
just extract poetry out of poverty, this dystopia
                            of civilization rendered fragrant,
             blossoming onto star-blue fields of loosestrife,
heady spools of spike lavender, of edible clover
                            beckoning to say without bruising
a jot of dog’s tooth violet, a nib of larkspur notes,
                        or the day’s perfumed reports of indigo
                                in the gloaming—
              what to say to those
                           whom you love in this world?
Use floriography, or as the flower-sellers put it,
Say it with flowers.
—Indigo, larkspur, star-blue, my dear.

The barber, with his mug of warm foam, his badger-hair brush.

My mother and sister and me and the dog, leashed with a measure
of anchor rope, in the hospital parking lot, waving good-bye
to my father from his window on the 7th floor.

Just him and his tumor, rare as the Hope Diamond,
and his flimsy paper cup half-filled with infirmary water.

The lump in my throat, a tea party cup left in the garage all winter,
holding the silver body and wing dust of a dead moth.

The barber, sweeping the day’s worth of hair into the basement,
remembering how he’d traveled to Memorial
to lather the face of the dying man and shave him smooth
in his raised hospital bed and sometimes he shaved the faces
of the dead as a favor to the mortician.

Wondering how this particular life was the life that had been chosen for him.

The barber, walking home in the dark
to a late supper of torn bread in a cup of heavy cream.

Even the mayor’s wife sipping from a teacup
wreathed in Banded Peacock butterflies wonders, in her loneliness,
why me? Why this cup?

Diane Seuss, "Jesus, with his cup" from Four-Legged Girl. Copyright © 2015 by Diane Seuss. Used with permission of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org.

Accurate like an arrow without a target
and no target in mind.

Silence has its own roar or, not-roar,
just as Rothko wrote “I don’t express myself
in my paintings. I express my not-self.”

A poem that expresses the not-self.
Everything but the self.
The meadow’s veil of fog, but is veil self-referential?

Already, dawn, the not-birds alert to what silence has to offer.

The fog, one of Rothko’s shapes,
hanging there in the not-self, humming.

Mikel, before he died, loved Rothko most.
When he could still think, he put his mind
to those sorts of judgments.

If I pull the fog away like theater curtains, what then?

Sadness shapes the landscape.
The arrow of myself thwacks the nearest tree.
Fog steps closer like a perpetrator or a god.

Oh. I’m weeping.
Tears feed the silence like a mother drops
into her baby not-bird’s open beak

some sweet but dangerous morsel.

From Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Diane Seuss. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.

The world, italicized.

Douglas fir blurs into archetype,
a black vertical with smeared green arms.
The load of pinecones at the top,
a brown smudge which could be anything: a wreath
of moths, a rabbit strung up
like a flag.

All trees are trees.
Death to modifiers.

A smear of blue, a smear of gold that could be a haystack,
a Cadillac, or a Medal of Honor without a neck to hang upon.

I know the dog killed something today, but it’s lost in fog.
A small red splotch in a band of monochromatic green.
And now, the mountain of bones is only a mountain capped in snow.
It’s a paradise of vagaries.
No heartache.
Just and eraser smudge,

All forms, the man wrote, tend toward blur.

From Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Diane Seuss. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.

with the milkweeds splitting at the seams emancipating their seeds
that were once packed in their pods like the wings and hollow bones
of a damp bird held too tightly in a green hand. And the giant jade
moths stuck to the screen door as if glued there. And the gold fields
and stone silos and the fugitive cows known for escaping their borders.

I have lived in a painting called Paradise, and even the bad parts
were beautiful. There are fields of needles arranged into flowers,
their sharp ends meeting at the center, and from a distance the fields
full of needle flowers look blue from their silver reflecting the sky,
or white lilies if the day is overcast, and there in the distance is a meadow

filled with the fluttering skirts of opium poppies. On the hillside
is Moon Cemetery, where the tombstones are hobnailed or prismed
like cut-glass bowls, and some are shaped so precisely like the trunks of trees
that birds build their nests in the crooks of their granite limbs, and some
of the graves are shaped like child-sized tables with stone tablecloths

and tea cups, yes, I have lived in a painting called Paradise.
The hollyhocks loom like grandfathers with red pocket watches,
and off in the distance the water is ink and the ships are white paper
with scribblings of poems and musical notations on their sides.
There are rabbits: mink-colored ones and rabbits that are mystics

humped like haystacks, and at Moon Cemetery it’s an everyday event
to see the dead rise from their graves, as glittering as they were in life,
to once more pick up the plow or the pen or the axe or the spoon
or the brush or the bowl, for it is a cemetery named after a moon
and moons never stay put. There are bees in the air flying off

to build honeycombs with pollen heavy on their back legs,
and in the air, birds of every ilk, the gray kind that feed from the ground,
and the ones that scream to announce themselves, and the ravens
who feed on the rabbits until their black feathers are edged
in gold, and in the air also are little gods and devils trying out their wings,

some flying, some failing and making a little cream-colored blip
in the sea, yes, all of my life I have lived in a painting called Paradise
with its frame of black varnish and gold leaf, and I am told some girls
slide their fingers over the frame and feel the air outside of it,
and some even climb over the edge and plummet into whatever

is beyond it. Some say it is hell, and some say just another, bolder
paradise, and some say a dark wilderness, and some say just an unswept
museum or library floor, and some say a long-lost love waits there
wearing bloody riding clothes, returned from war, and some say
freedom, which is a word that tastes strange, like a green plum.

From Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Diane Seuss. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.