I Have Lived My Whole Life in a Painting Called Paradise

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.