August 14, 2012

Diane Seuss

WHAT IS AT THE HEART OF IT IS A VORACIOUS CLINGING TO WHAT IS CALLED LOVE

I always gripped that thrill, that fuchsia carbonation, swarm of blush-colored
butterflies colonizing the gut, and I believed it meant something beyond

a temporary flush of feeling; it’s what I knew of theatre, of God. I wanted
the play to never end, red curtains permanently drawn back like the lips

around the smile of an actress, dead before her time. I wanted God to never
rise into the air and return transparent and desexualized, resolved in his own

narrative, at peace with himself, because his peace meant I was no longer
necessary. It began early, when I was a girl, wandering the village seeking

Jesus. I loved the mechanics of salvation. Some churches made you squeeze
shut your eyes and raise your hand if you wanted to invite him into your heart,

and I could see the thick oaken door, hear the rusty hinges squeaking open
and Jesus walking into the hot burgundy room, my blood roaring like Niagara

when you walk behind the falls. Other times you were asked to stride to the front
of the church and publicly hand over your life to God, so the congregants could

witness your ecstasy, more intimate than a lover watching your unguarded face
during orgasm because in church there were no sexy conventions to hide behind,

no poses learned in movies or magazines; they would see the raw, unwieldy
moves of a body in the throes of desire without pretense. I can’t for the life of me

remember how I transferred that largesse to a boy as frail as Danny Davis,
whose family lived in a low gray shack on Bertrand Road. When he walked

onto the school bus, so early in the morning the world inside the bus was dark
as the church broom closet, I trembled like a newborn. When he exited at the end

of the day—in winter, the sky having already darkened again, a strip of pale orange
sunset running behind his house like the shabby ribbons we’d tie into our pony’s

mane if we’d had a pony—I’d feel more bereft than I had the day my father died,
as the day my father died I was numb, I needed a template for how to feel, a map

for how to walk, now that he was dead, to my Brownie meeting, or my best friend’s
house, whose toddler brother proclaimed, when I finally made my way through

the door, “Your dad’s dead!” like he was announcing a victory, like I had won
something, a cake, or a beauty pageant. I would like to end there, as what

comes later is adulthood, where thematic iterations throb like pulsars, metrical
as the contractions of an orgasm. What I can’t neglect, though I’d like to, is Sammy’s

Roumanian, a restaurant on Chrystie Street, in the Bowery, on the Lower East
Side of Manhattan, Sammy’s, on the Vernal Equinox in 1979, filled with laughter,

the tinny music from an electric keyboard, and faded red balloons. Sammy’s,
with its small pitcher of chicken fat—schmaltz—throbbing gold at the center

of each table. It’s where and when Kevin and I were to be married, and how
smart we were, to want to stop time when we were at the zenith of our beauty.

I wonder now, had we done it—and I want to bash my head against the wall,
thinking of it—could we have thwarted the rest? How he would die young,

and I—well, here I am, alive, it is so early in the morning all of the windows
on my street are dark, just me here in this house, facing west, where the sun goes

to die, and, all things being equal, the wind is born, and wanders east, and bears
down, and uproots everything that has not been nailed to a wooden cross.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

[download audio]

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Diane Seuss: “I was raised in a place that seems to me now to have been the maternity ward where archetypes were born. Bull snakes and milkweed pods, vitamin factories and cement churches with ‘God’ stuck over the door with vinyl mailbox lettering. I was saved, and saved again, and saved again and again, but it never took. Then I fell in love and in love again, and again. I was to be married on the Vernal Equinox on the Bowery in NYC, but I walked away. Things tumbled from there, as if love is ruled by the laws of physics, which it is. I now live in the gut of aloneness like a tapeworm. I quite like it here.” (website)