Jesus, with his cup

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?

More by Diane Seuss

Toad


The grief, when I finally contacted it 
decades later, was black, tarry, hot,
like the yarrow-edged side roads 
we walked barefoot in the summer. 

Sometimes we’d come upon a toad 
flattened by a car tire, pressed into 
the softened pitch, its arms spread out 
a little like Jesus, and it was now 

part of the surface of the road, part 
of the road’s story. Then there was 
the live toad I discovered under 
the poison leaves of the rhubarb,

hiding there among the ruby stems,
and if you ate those stems raw, 
enough of them, you’d shit yourself
for days. It isn’t easy to catch a living 

thing and hold it until it pees on you
in fear. Its skin was the dull brown 
of my father’s clothes, my grandfather’s 
clothes as he stood behind the barber’s 

chair, clipping sideburns, laying a warm 
heap of shaving cream over a bristly chin, 
sharpening his straight razor and swiping it 
over the foam-covered cheek of my father, 

who often shaved twice a day, his beard 
was so obstinate, even in the hospital bed. 
When I laid a last kiss on his young cheek, 
the scraping hurt my lips. Do you ever 

wonder, in your heart of hearts, 
if God loves you, if the angels love you, 
scowling, holding their fiery swords, 
radiating green light? If your father 

loved you, if he had room to love you, 
given his poverty and suffering, or if 
a coldness had set in, a cold-bloodedness, 
like Keats at the end, wanting a transfusion 

of the reader’s life blood so he could live 
again. Either way, they’re all safely 
underground, their gentleness or ferocity, 
their numb love, and my father’s 

tar-colored hair, and the fibers of his good 
suit softened by wood tannins, 
and grandfather’s glass eye with its 
painted-on mud-colored iris, 

maybe all that’s left of him in that walnut 
box, and Keats and his soft brown clothes, 
and the poets before and after him.
But their four-toed emissary sits 

in my hand. I feel the quickening pulse 
through its underbelly. Hooded eyes, 
molasses-tinged, unexpressive, 
the seam of its mouth glued shut.

Song in My Heart

If there’s pee on the seat it’s my pee,
battery’s dead I killed it, canary at the bottom
of the cage I bury it, like God tromping the sky
in his undershirt carrying his brass spittoon,
raging and sobbing in his Hush Puppy house
slippers with the backs broke down, no Mrs.
God to make him reasonable as he gets out
the straight razor to slice the hair off his face,
using the Black Sea as a mirror when everyone
knows the Black Sea is a terrible mirror,
like God is a terrible simile for me but like
God with his mirror, I use it.

Self-Portrait with Sylvia Plath’s Braid

Some women make a pilgrimage to visit it
in the Indiana library charged to keep it safe.

I didn’t drive to it; I dreamed it, the thick braid
roped over my hands, heavier than lead.

My own hair was long for years.
Then I became obsessed with chopping it off,

and I did, clear up to my ears. If hair is beauty
then I am no longer beautiful.

Sylvia was beautiful, wasn’t she?
And like all of us, didn’t she wield her beauty

like a weapon? And then she married,
and laid it down, and when she was betrayed

and took it up again it was a word-weapon,
a poem-sword. In the dream I fasten

her braid to my own hair, at my nape.
I walk outside with it, through the world

of men, swinging it behind me like a tail.