Six Unrhymed Sonnets

Diane Seuss
1
I drove all the way to Cape Disappointment but didn’t
have the energy to get out of the car. Rental. Blue Ford
Focus. I had to stop in a semipublic place to pee
on the ground. Just squatted there on the roadside.
I don’t know what’s up with my bladder. I pee and then
I have to pee and pee again. Instead of sightseeing
I climbed into the back seat of the car and took a nap.
I’m a little like Frank O’Hara without the handsome
nose and penis and the New York School and Larry
Rivers. Paid for a day pass at Cape Disappointment
thinking hard about that long drop from the lighthouse
to the sea. Thought about going into the Ocean
Medical Center for a check-up but how do I explain
this restless search for beauty or relief?

2
No need to sparkle, Virginia Woolf wrote in “A Room
of One’s Own,” oh, would that it were true, I loved the kids
who didn’t, June, can’t remember her last name, tilt of her
head like an off-brand flower on the wane, her little rotten
teeth the color of pencil lead, house dresses even in 4th grade,
and that boy Danny Davis, gray house, horse, eyes, clothes,
fingertips and prints, freckles not copper-colored but like metal
shavings you could clean up with a magnet. Now Mrs. LaPointe
was a dug-up bone but Miss Edge sparkled, she taught the half-
and-half class, 3rd and 4th grades cut down the middle
of the room like sheet cake, she wore a lavender chiffon dress
with a gauzy cape to school, aquamarine eye shadow, Sweetie,
she whispered to me, leaning down, breath a perfume, your
daddy’s dead, tears stuck to her cheeks like leeches or jewels.

3
I aborted two daughters, how do I know they were girls,
a mother knows, at least one daughter, maybe one
daughter and a son, will it hurt I asked the pre-abortion
lady and she said, her eyes were so level, I haven’t been
stupid enough to need to find out, cruel but she was right,
I was and am stupid, please no politics, I’ve never gotten
over it, no I don’t regret it, two girls with a stupid penniless
mother and a drug-addict father, I don’t think so, I shot
a rabbit once for food, I am not pristine, I am not good,
I am in no way Jesus, I am in no way even the bad Mary
let alone the good, though I have held my living son
in the pietà pose, I didn’t know at the time I was doing it
but now that I look back, he’d overdosed and nearly died,
my heart, he said, his lips blue, don’t worry, I’ve paid.

4
To return from Paradise I guess they call that
resurrection. Don’t remember the black cherries’
gleam, bay shine, mountain’s sheen, blissful
appalling loneliness. Messy foam at sea’s edge,
slurry they call it, where love and death meld
into slop, and unaccustomed birds. Forget all
the way back to where you were before you were
born. When Dyl was a toddler, still finger-sucking,
he said he remembered the sound of my blood
whooshing past him in utero, maybe the first of many
lies, this one with an adorable speech impediment.
I always return, it’s my nature, like the man who
couldn’t stop liberating the crayfish even though
it pinched him hard, that song, that Grand Ole Opry.

5
The best is when you respond only to the absolute present
tense, the rain, the rain, rain, rain, and wind, an iridescent
cloud, another shooting, this time in a shopping mall
in Germany, so this is why people want other people to put
their arms around them, I will walk to the bay where there is
a kind of peace, even emptiness, the barn swallows’ sharp
flight and cry, who now has the luxury of emptiness or peace,
the beauty of thunder in a place where there is rarely thunder,
the mind like a jackrabbit bounding, bounding, my wet hair
against my neck, grandfather’s barber shop, the line-up
of hair tonics by color like a spectrum, the pool table removed
to make a room for great-grandma to live out her years, my
father cutting a semicircle in her kitchen table so it would fit
around the stove pipe, rain, rain, fascism in America is loud.

6
Poetry, the only father, landscape, moon, food, the bowl
of clam chowder in Nahcotta, was I happy, mountains
of oyster shells gleaming silver, poetry, the only gold,
or is it, my breasts, feet, my hands, index finger,
fingernail, hangnail, paper cut, what is divine, I drove
to the sea, wandered aimlessly, I stared at my tree, I said
in my mind there’s my tree, there’s my tree I said in my mind,
I remember myself before words, thrilled at my parents’
touch, opened milkweed with no agenda, blew the fluff,
no reaching for comparison, to be free of signification,
wriggle out of the figurative itchy sweater, body, breasts,
vulva, little cave of the uterus, clit, need, touch, come, I came
before I knew what coming was, iambic pentameter, did I
feel it, does language eclipse feeling, does it eclipse the eclipse

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.