Six Sonnets

Poetry / Diane Seuss

:: Mountains black today, hiding when the wind cooperates ::

Mountains black today, hiding when the wind cooperates behind Whitman
beards, legless homeless talking to themselves on red dirt corners, laughing 
at the nothing there is to laugh at, holding up blank cardboard signs, 
the want so great they can’t put words to it, and I belong nowhere, have 
never belonged anywhere, not where I was raised, not where I was not raised, 
not in any classroom or strip motel or restaurant of any false or real ethnicity, 
not chic, not invisible, not urban but no farm where my apron can flap 
in the wind, not in any workplace, my god, workplaces, I know this is 
the wail of a teenager and yet I’m not really wailing, am I, am I wailing, 
I’m saying this body has never been a home, my shack a shackle, dog 
is a good boy but he bites, poems are someone else’s clothes I slipped 
into so I could skip town, even the hospital where I was born was borrowed 
from the Catholics, nuns thought I was odd and tried to foist me off 
on the Buddhists but they reached through the fog and handed me back


:: It’s a real Garden of Eden story ::

It’s a real Garden of Eden story, the mother of the little 
compound, founder, embracer, died of cancer, then some 
goof from Arkansas moved in thinking he could plant corn 
after they told him you can’t plant corn in the mountains, 
there will be a freeze on one end or the other, planted corn, 
it froze, and now he’s out there most nights burning husks 
for God knows what purpose, and he’s got keep out signs 
all over the range so Shawn can’t walk his dogs out there 
and the half-coyote Rico sits smack in front of Shawn and stares 
into his eyes like hypnotism, but you know how coyotes are, 
that high laugh-cry that throws salt into your wound at the time 
of night you’re already bedded down in your loneliness, 
and Arkansas out there setting fires and the dry trees rattling 
their leaves like some golden currency no one uses anymore


:: For twenty-six days I lived in an apartment with a dishwasher ::

For twenty-six days I lived in an apartment with a dishwasher, 
and I’ll tell you, it changed me, it changed my hands not to have 
them daily in hot, soapy water, and the change wormed its way 
up my arms all the way to my brain, so that I became incredulous 
at the notion of ever having worked through a sinkful of dishes, 
I was also in a strange time zone, and at a high elevation, so that 
in bed, flat on my back, I felt short of breath like an invalid, I was 
like Keats, and cried a little upon waking, as he did, opening 
his eyes once again to unbearable suffering, and people in the town 
treated me with an unaccustomed degree of respect, when they 
shook my hand I could tell they were thinking that it was soft, 
and it was soft, so was my other hand, the softness snaked 
through me into all the corners of my life and my whole interior, 
I had no origin story, no soul, I was, practically speaking, an appliance. 


:: Either all of this is an apparition or I am ::

Either all of this is an apparition or I am, and where the apparition 
began I don’t rightly know, maybe I’m still coupled, maybe I have 
a towhead in tow, my singularity in every circumstance a mirage, 
reading The Dubliners at Orlando’s eating a relleno while the whole 
world sips its margaritas in tandem, watching a meteor shower
from a blue picnic table in the dark near a tributary of the Rio 
Grande, wild dogs rambling through the pueblo beneath the Blood 
of Christ mountains where I have never/will never belong nor
should I, and magpies with the indigo feathers down their backs 
who can recognize their own faces in looking glasses, or Intro 
to Buddhism, peyote-tripping through class, the prof spinning 
a prayer wheel like a party favor, maybe all the way back to being 
trapped with my dad in a House of Mirrors, reaching for a father 
and banging into glass, self, self, impairment, hallucination 

:: It is abominable, unquenchable by touch ::

It is abominable, unquenchable by touch, closer 
to the sublime than sentimental, more animal 
than hominid, I’ve seen it in the eyes of birds 
weaving on a stem of ragweed, voracious,
singular, there is no one like me, Dickinson in
her narrow bed, her cold clenched hands, her 
penmanship elegant, unreadable, even following 
a recipe for black cake her black cake came out 
strange, lusher than the template, and every freak 
I ever met had that same look in their eyes, armless, 
rolling a cigarette with their lips and teeth, legless, 
rounding a corner on their handmade cart,
monarchic, imperious, wild, sad, and like every 
queen the need for love revolting and grand


:: And then landscape was all there was ::

And then landscape was all there was. Curves of rock blocking 
the sky like drive-in movie screens showing repeatedly films about 
ribbons. Breast-shaped blood-colored towers. Beautiful, my mind 
called it. I languaged it so I wouldn’t have to hear the wind. Two 
weeks in a hotel off the interstate. So lonely I start getting mawkish 
about other people’s fingerprints on the headboard, hawkish about
hawks. Do hawks eat roadkill. What eats hawks. I turn encyclopedia
into a verb. Eat every meal at Dick’s. Who’s Dick, I ask the waitress. 
Nobody remembers the original Dick. They’ve been looking to hire 
a Dick but so far no applicants. I need my loneliness, I was quoted 
as saying. Someone writing the narrative called me a ribbon-snipper.
I don’t have a zip code, a house, a dog, mailman, milkman, president, 
dad. It’s a classic Western tableau: man wearing a hat under a derelict 
sky. Not a cloud in the. In this case, a bitch wearing a fedora.


From the writer

:: Account ::

I am working on a book-length sequence of sonnets that, taken together, will constitute a kind of memoir, though not exclusively a memoir of life experiences, but one also of the nature of memory itself—a memoir of the act of remembering. The sonnet is an endlessly fluid, re-imaginable form. It has been hushed, lushed, fragmented, fogged, elated, flipped, and freaked by everyone from Donne to Rossetti to Hopkins to Millay to cummings to Patricia Smith, Gerald Stern, A. Van Jordan, Evie Shockley, and countless others. To participate in it, for me, is to feel held up, though delicately, by the experimentations and solitudes of poets known and unknown.

My sonnets are all fourteen lines—I’m not abandoning that holy integer—but are often unrhymed, or use rhyme only intermittently, and are unmetered, though now and then I drop in a metered line or two to remind me (and the reader) where we come from. Most of my sonnets do contain a turn, however subtle, and a couplet, though not necessarily rhymed. The diction is at times on the edge of formal, at other times, idiomatic. They frame, at times, increments of lived experience. At other times, their focus is an idea, a reading experience, a theory, an absurdity, a dream, or a vision. They teach me, among other things, that, as Oscar Wilde writes, “Your days are your sonnets,” that every moment is potentially divisible by fourteen lines.

I am divorced and now intentionally unpartnered. My son lives several hundred miles north. I am alone much of the time. I am more aware of that aloneness when I travel, when I’m divorced even from my little house and my landscape. At times I feel I’m teetering on the edge of non-existence, of being swallowed by strange altitudes and sublime, overwhelming vistas. The sonnet has become my constant companion, my Camerado and camera, my vessel, Louise to my Thelma as we take flight over the Grand Canyon. When I’m not writing them, I’m talking sonnets in my headspace. Lines surge through me as if I am a sieve. Sometimes they end up in poems; at other times they stream behind me like hair ribbons let loose into the wind.


Diane Seuss’s fourth collection, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, is forthcoming in May 2018 from Graywolf Press. Four-Legged Girl, which was published in 2015 by Graywolf Press, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open received the Juniper Prize and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2010. Her first book was It Blows You Hollow from New Issues Poetry and Prose. Poems and brief essays have appeared in a range of literary magazines, including Virginia Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, and New England Review. Seuss was Writer in Residence at Kalamazoo College for many years and was the MacLean Distinguished Visiting Professor at Colorado College in 2012 and 2017. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.