Folk Song

Let me enter the afterlife lithe not plodding. 
Rise out of this heavy peasantry. Lithe 
and cool as a battery-powered flame, 
not fire. My feet
are short and wide. The soles, stained 
with mulberries. I have never been lithe,
streamlined, pedicured, compressed, minimal, ergonomic,

fuselage cutting the air. 
In my herringbone skirt and shirttail out, I am a slob.
What is a slob but a knob of thickness, a mushroom
stem, a beer stein Mozart stole from the Hofbräuhaus while writing
My stylist, gravity. Memory a tree so loaded with fruit and birds the tips 

of the branches rake the ground. 
By lithe I do not mean in body, do I?
Do I mean in soul? 
To be one of those green-eyed ones others refer to as
aquamarine. Empty 
of ancestors. Face clean 
of lipstick smears and other gestures of artifice.

Feet a rare triple-A, so narrow there aren’t shoes 
that won’t chafe. Skin easy to tear, 
like Kleenex we turned into carnations for parade floats.
Those drinks from the soda fountain we called Green Rivers.
Green and sweet, without flavor, but delicious.
I am too tired to hold up this heavy self.
Of selfhood I worked so hard to earn. Of work I worked so hard

to avoid. Of the working class. My class. Its itches and psychological riches.
Its notions and values and humble achievements.
Of this town which inhabitants speak of with endearments
as if it were a child. As if it’s not like every other brat.
Town with its river, drunk on itself. Its shitty Xmas ornaments 
and fall-down-fucked-up Santa on a raft tethered to the river bank. 
Its tiny museum

built around the star of the show, a lamb born with two heads.
Every town has a two-headed something. It doesn’t mean
You know what? I want to be rich and lithe.
Rich, with a lyric gift and a song 
like a white-throated sparrow. I am vulture-heavy. 
My stories are caskets filled with black feathers,

the lids pounded shut with railroad spikes.
The gravedigger is noodling Melba, the widow-woman,
and a hognose is consuming a toy train on cemetery lane.
Let me resurrect beyond the bracken
fronds and the three-legged stool and catgut guitar 
and this two-ton song from the mouth 
of a wax museum troubadour.


Copyright © 2023 by Diane Seuss. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘Folk Song’ seems to be against all things ‘folk,’ but, in its unwinding, becomes an argument against itself. It begs for litheness, to rise out of its heavy peasantry, to escape its loaded tree of fruits and birds. Let my feet be narrow, my soul, lightweight. Allow me to escape my heavy selfhood, the burdens of the working class. This small town, this drunk Santa, this two-headedness, this hognose snake, this cemetery lane, this and that quirkiness, this folk, this song. ‘Take this cup away,’ it says, while guzzling that thick, brackish brew.”
—Diane Seuss