January 3, 2019

Diane Seuss


Having a threesome with Jack
Daniels and Billie Holiday.
Garden sex with the dumb serpent.
Sex at the Wailing Wall, the Berlin Wall,
the Great Wall, the Wall of Names. Sex
with Sonny Corleone against the wall during
the wedding. Having horse sex with Mr. Ed
reruns. Olive oil sex with the Big Cook.
Clothesline sex with the chickens hanging there;
with the bodies without heads running through
the pumpkin vines. Having gardenia sex
with my father’s romantic notions of how to get
a girl. Educated sex with the New York Times
paper carrier. Grandfather sex with a swivel
rocker. Camel sex with the butts in the ashtray.
Hot sex with the air conditioner. Having nostalgic
sex with the guy who embalmed my father. Vietnam
sex with Doug, who’s paranoid and gives good head.
Dirty sex with the potato farmer’s daughter. Having
Bob’s Country Club sex with one of the Drake
brothers. The good looking one. Not the smart
one. Not the one who went on to make something
of himself. Chuck, the one with a hi-fi ass. Tamale
sex, going to Juanita’s on a booty call hoping to get
Gabriel’s attention while he leans over the fryer.
Having halfway sex at a rest stop halfway between
here and there, meaning Michigan City, the town
where I was born. Ore boat sex. Mall parking lot
sex. Nun doll sex. Rock me like a baby sex.
The Reverend Al Green sex. Sex in the black groove
of an old record album, sex in the scratch on the vinyl,
sex in the skip, in the skip, in the skip, sex in the applause
of the long dead audience thrilled with Miss Billie Holiday
in a single spotlight singing Strange Fruit. Sex in the dark
after she leaves the stage. Sex on her grave; sex that
blasphemes death. Arrowhead in the heart sex. Sex on the body
of the last buffalo. Sex on God’s welcome mat, in Mother
Hubbard’s cupboard, sex with her poor dog’s bone.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Diane Seuss: “The most loyal and passionate relationship I’ve had in my life is with poetry. Addition came hard, subtraction harder; chemistry threw me for a loop, as did sewing and quick breads. But I could write. It’s come in handy, especially during the rough times, which were most of the time. Poetry’s like my beagle. It’s wrecked my furniture, but it keeps me warm at night.” (web)

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April 22, 2014

Diane Seuss


“How miserable I am!” he muttered, “my God, how miserable!” And joy gave way to the boredom of everyday life, and the feeling of irrevocable loss.
—Anton Chekhov, “Typhus”

He took to reading Chekhov late at night
and studied up on Fox Talbot and calotypes.
Watched the History Channel, anything
on Lincoln or the Civil War, Caligula,
who cut off tongues and fucked his sister.
After Chekhov, he’d head downstairs, putter
with a model plane or pull the lint out
of the dryer screen. Sometimes lie fetal
on the couch, make toast, unbuttered.
How miserable I am, he muttered.

Why Chekhov and not Kafka or Conrad?
Why Talbot and not Daguerre? Lincoln
and not Adams or FDR, John Wilkes Booth
and not Leon Czolgosz or Charles Guiteau?
Why model planes and not carved decoys
in the attic? All the while, he was affable
and focused, building a wooden box camera
and writing an early history of photography.
Grief, like photographs, inerasable.
My God, how miserable.

I’m thinking back on childhood. He sucked
his fingers, not his thumb. He seemed happy
but had trouble sleeping, afraid of the dark.
Aren’t all children afraid of the dark? Only
later came the other things, the unspeakable.
It reminds me of that deer we hit, the knife
my then-husband took to its throat, as men
do, letting one brand of suffering cancel out
another. That deer was a door to years of grief.
And joy gave way to the boredom of everyday life.

Chekhov’s stories are essentially plotless.
Mirsky wrote they are a “biography of a mood,”
and Chekhov himself hoped to write
with the objectivity of a chemist. Bored,
he traveled five thousand miles, three thousand
in a rickety carriage drawn by horse,
to the penal colony on Sakhalin Island. Chekhov,
in ill-health, suffering, trotting his way through
wilderness toward imprisoned sufferers, all to cross
paths with the feeling of irrevocable loss.

from Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets


Diane Seuss: “My ex-husband walked out on us during a blizzard in 1999, dragging his clothes in two garbage bags down the sidewalk and away. From then on, my son was the child of a single mother. He was also a photographer, a reader of Russian fiction, a heroin addict, and now an addict in recovery. I write about him rarely, and always with trepidation, lest I sentimentalize or simplify what has been, for both of us, an undiminishable journey.”

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August 14, 2012

Diane Seuss


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]


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)

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July 5, 2011

Review by Ellen Miller-Mack

by Diane Seuss

University of Massachusetts Press
POB 429
Amherst, MA 01004
ISBN 978-1-55849-825-9
2010, 88 pp. ,$15.95 paper,

Do you love language, finding yourself in a hot tub of pleasure when it flows and surprises? Then Diane Seuss is your woman. She has a compelling voice, projecting beauty and power, exuding warmth and humor: the voice of experience. In her Ars Poetica, “The cooked goose”, she begins:

I’m writing under the influence
of heartbreak and I’ve already broken

the code of silence on the subject of writing.

Along comes a potent metaphor, “the night which struck me as a big brutal cathedral” and she is a four year old living alone inside it. Just a few lines later:

I sat on the stone bench in the midst of my saints and listened
to ice melt in my whiskey. There. Now I’m fifty.

The magic of contemporary poetry just happened before
your very eyes. I’m fifty, drunk, heartbroken, the dog’s

emptied her bladder and I’m back to noticing that I’m writing

As she agonizes over word choice—will it be “bug” or “insect”—she asks: “Is this self-disclosure making us closer?”

Actually, yes.

Who wants to put up with that crap? I almost wrote crapola,
that’s the kind of career-ruining shit I’ve come down to.

This is not your everyday self-effacement. She is very skillful, bold and funny. And you can bet that sitting among her saints on that stone bench are demons.

Robert Hass said: “Metaphor is a participatory act; it surprises the hearer into self-knowledge. It heightens his relationship to himself.” “Drunk” serves as a metaphor for that feeling of exposure, even shame, as we write our hearts out, or wish we could. Indeed, metaphor in Seuss’s hands carries us across that river.

“Let’s meet somewhere outside time and space” is a psalm-like, gorgeously lyrical love poem to poetry, or to her muse or to the embryonic poems within. Several recurrent and engaging themes are woven in: ice cream, cherries, a wedding dress and lilacs.

Seuss appears to be obsessed with time, like many (if not all) poets. In a poem called “This is Now” she writes about the past, when


he black phone had a cord curly
as a pig’s tail. You could only stray

so far, three choices
for pizza toppings. emerald green shampoo

through which a pearl would sink slowly,
and breck, thin and gold,

princess elixir.

“So far” alludes to social constraints, but also distance in time and space. In several other poems, lilacs seem to represent the passage of time—they bloom and intoxicate in early spring so fleetingly that we grieve before the season peaks.

If you sense the presence of autobiographical poems, they are here, engagingly so, with vivid detail and strong feeling, as are persona poems, on that familiar continuum of imagination and experience. In “I’m glorious in my destruction like an atomic bomb” I feel the urgency of conjuring up a woman with a “big body cinched / by a tight black dress, funnel / cloud spilling cleavage” but the poem becomes heavy and somewhat immovable when the reader is confronted with phrases representing challenging, if not tragic, circumstances:

abortion(s)Kevin’s heroin
overdose Mikel’s AIDS forty-eight
hours of labor divorce poverty
roof collapse assault red bud
tree sliced in half leg snapped off
at the high water mark—

An ingeniously constructed and highly successful persona poem is “I met a moon-faced man.” In the poem itself “i” is lower case, of particular interest when we find out the speaker refers to “back in the days when i had a body.” She who is free (yet brooding) in another dimension muses over a man who had “blown away half his face”—but now—could it be—he may have become a third quarter moon. “I liked to take walks with him, liked to gaze up / into his monstrous face. he was taller than I ever dreamed of being.” This poem has strikingly long lines, in three-line stanzas. Not much white space, although the moon-faced man has half a face. Three-line stanzas for the third quarter moon? Seuss’s poems are balanced appealingly on the page, and she goes with two-line stanzas (heroic couplets) in many of the poems in this volume.

Seuss is also intrigued with, if not obsessed by, what she calls binaries. Not to be confused with opposites or paradoxes, a binary has two parts or subjects, or it’s the combination of two benign substances to make one dangerous one. The exploration of binaries is the underlying theme of the book. Good and evil occupy one body, as do life and death. The wedding gown—in various stages, worn, not worn, being sewn, and even a “trillium’s white gown blown open” in the title poem is a dramatic symbol for present/future, and life/death. In the final poem, “the mewlings and snippings of baby birds,” it’s “off to the seamstress”:

with pins in her mouth, and off to the wedding
chapel, and off to the maker of shrouds, same
lady, same quick needle made of silver light.

But before we go to the seamstress, let’s go to the State Line Dairy, where “the cherries in the sherbet are harvested from virgins” in “You like it, don’t you, you like it hard and cold.” Reading the title, you can hear the nervous titters in the audience, but trust me, this is a delicious and deep tour of someplace real and full of life in the form of a breathless sentence which is 19 lines long and may or may not be a prose poem. It takes up space, like an actual place, like a town. Maybe it’s a town in Michigan, where the poet was born and lives currently, as the writer-in-residence at Kalamazoo College.

So much exuberance and personality in this Juniper Prize-winning book! Here’s one of the many poems that move and delight me. See if you feel Muriel Rukeyser hovering overhead.

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 his 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.


Ellen Miller-Mack received an MFA in Poetry this past June from Drew University. Forthcoming are poems in 5 A.M. and Affilia and a review in the Valparaiso Poetry Review. Ellen co-authored the Real Cost of Prisons Comix, published by PM Press. She is an nurse practitioner providing primary care in a community health center in Springfield, Massachusetts. She can be contacted at: ellenmiller-mack@comcast.net.

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