There’s no sense
in telling you my particular
troubles. You have yours too.
Is there value
in comparing notes?
Unlike Williams writing
poems on prescription pads
between patients, I have
no prescriptions for you.
I’m more interested
in the particular
nature and tenor of the energy
of our trouble. Maybe
that’s not enough for you.
Sometimes I stick in
some music. I’m capable
of hallucination
so there’s nothing wrong
with my images. As for me,
I’m not looking for wisdom.
The wise don’t often write
wisely, do they? The danger
is in teetering into platitudes.
Maybe Keats was preternaturally
wise but what he gave us
was beauty, whatever that is,
and truth, synonymous, he wrote,
with beauty, and not the same
as wisdom. Maybe truth
is the raw material of wisdom
before it has been conformed
by ego, fear, and time,
like a shot
of whiskey without
embellishment, or truth lays bare
the broken bone and wisdom
scurries in, wanting
to cover and justify it. It’s really
kind of a nasty
enterprise. Who wants anyone
else’s hands on their pain?
And I’d rather be arrested
than advised, even on my
taxes. So what
can poetry be now? Dangerous
to approach such a question,
and difficult to find the will to care.
But we must not languish, soldiers,
(according to the wise,)
we must go so far as to invent
new mechanisms of caring.
Maybe truth, yes, delivered
with clarity. The tone is up
to you. Truth, unabridged,
has become in itself a strange
and beautiful thing.
Truth may involve a degree
of seeing through time.
Even developing a relationship
with a thing before writing,
whether a bird
or an idea about birds, it doesn’t
matter. But please not only
a picture of a bird. Err
on the side of humility, though
humility can be declarative.
It does not submit. It can even appear
audacious. It takes mettle
to propose truth
and pretend it is generalizable.
Truth should sting, in its way,
like a major bee, not a sweat bee.
It may target the reader like an arrow,
or be swallowable, a watermelon
seed we feared as children
would take up residency in our guts
and grow unabated and change us
forever into something viny
and prolific and terrible.
As for beauty, a problematic word,
one to be side-eyed lest it turn you
to stone or salt,
it is not something to work on
but a biproduct, at times,
of the process of our making.
Beauty comes or it doesn’t, as do
its equally compelling counterparts,
inelegance and vileness.
This we learned from Baudelaire,
Flaubert, Rimbaud, Genet, male poets
of the lavishly grotesque.
You’ve seen those living rooms,
the red velvet walls and lampshades
fringed gold, cat hair thick
on the couches,
and you have been weirdly
compelled, even cushioned,
by them. Either way,
please don’t tell me flowers
are beautiful and blood clots
are ugly. These things I know,
or I know this is how
flowers and blood clots
are assessed by those content
with stale orthodoxies.
Maybe there is such a thing
as the beauty of drawing near.
Near, nearer, all the way
to the bedside of the dying
world. To sit in witness,
without platitudes, no matter
the distortions of the death throes,
no matter the awful music
of the rattle. Close, closer,
to that sheeted edge.
From this vantage point
poetry can still be beautiful.
It can even be useful, though
never wise.

Copyright © 2022 by Diane Seuss. This poem originally appeared in Chicago Review, January 28, 2022. Used with permission of the author.