Still Life with Turkey

Diane Seuss

The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot,the cord binding it just below the stiff trinityof toes, each with its cold bent claw. My eyesare in love with it as they are in love with alldead things that cannot escape being looked at.It is there to be seen if I want to see it, as myfather was there in his black casket and could notelude our gaze. I was a child so they askedif I wanted to see him. “Do you want to see him?”someone asked. Was it my mother? Grandmother?Some poor woman was stuck with the job.“He doesn’t look like himself,” whoever-it-wasadded. “They did something strange with his mouth.”As I write this, a large moth flutters againstthe window. It presses its fat thorax to the glass.“No,” I said, “I don’t want to see him.” I don’t recallif I secretly wanted them to open the box for mebut thought that “no” was the correct response,or if I believed I should want to see him but wastoo afraid of what they’d done with his mouth.I think I assumed that my seeing him wouldmake things worse for my mother, and she was allI had. Now I can’t get enough of seeing, as if I’m payinga sort of penance for not seeing then, and sothis turkey, hanged, its small, raw-looking head,which reminds me of the first fully naked manI ever saw, when I was a candy striperat a sort of nursing home, he was a war veteran,young, burbling crazily, his face and body redas something scalded. I didn’t want to see,and yet I saw. But the turkey, I am in love with it,its saggy neck folds, the rippling, variegatedfeathers, the crook of its unbound foot,and the glorious wings, archangelic, spreadas if it could take flight, but down,downward, into the earth.

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Diane Suess

Diane Seuss was born in Michigan City, Indiana, in 1956 and raised in Edwardsburg and Niles, Michigan. She studied at Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, where she received a master’s degree in social work. Seuss is the author of five books of poetry, including frank: sonnets (Graywolf Press, 2021); Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry; Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf Press, 2015), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), recipient of the Juniper Prize for Poetry.

“This collection showcases a poet who is writing some of the most animated and complex poetry today… By the end of the book, everything is larger and more vibrant—the paintings, the speaker’s life, the reader and the world. This is the brilliance of Seuss—everything is animated and complicated by her mind, a mind that has a hunch that silence holds truth”
Los Angeles Times

“[A] marvelous, complex, attractive, frightening book.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Throughout this rich collection, the speaker uses art to show how women and the lower class have been portrayed and framed, so to speak, by social norms and expectations. She challenges long-held ideas about worth, privilege and beauty, and creates an alternative landscape through self-portraits and Gothic still lifes.”
The Washington Post

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