Still Life with Turkey
The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot,
the cord binding it just below the stiff trinity
of toes, each with its cold bent claw. My eyesare in love with it as they are in love with all
dead 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 not
elude our gaze. I was a child so they asked
if 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 against
the window. It presses its fat thorax to the glass.“No,” I said, “I don’t want to see him.” I don’t recall
if I secretly wanted them to open the box for me
but thought that “no” was the correct response,or if I believed I should want to see him but was
too 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 all
I had. Now I can’t get enough of seeing, as if I’m paying
a sort of penance for not seeing then, and sothis turkey, hanged, its small, raw-looking head,
which reminds me of the first fully naked man
I 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 red
as 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, variegated
feathers, the crook of its unbound foot,and the glorious wings, archangelic, spread
as if it could take flight, but down,
downward, into the earth.
Copyright © 2019 by Diane Seuss.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Diane Seuss is the author of three previous collections of poetry, Four-Legged Girl, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, winner of the Juniper Prize, and It Blows You Hollow. Seuss was Writer in Residence at Kalamazoo College for many years, where she received the Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for both teaching and scholarship. Seuss has lived in Cincinnati and New York City, but she circled back to Michigan, where she was raised on the state line.
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl takes its title from Rembrandt’s painting, a dark emblem of femininity, violence, and the viewer’s own troubled gaze. In Diane Seuss’s new collection, the notion of the still life is shattered and Rembrandt’s painting is presented across the book in pieces—details that hide more than they reveal until they’re assembled into a whole. With invention and irreverence, these poems escape gilded frames and overturn traditional representations of gender, class, and luxury. Instead, Seuss invites in the alienated, the washed-up, the ugly, and the freakish—the overlooked many of us who might more often stand on a Walmart parking lot than before the canvases of Pollock, O’Keeffe, and Rothko. Rendered with precision and profound empathy, this extraordinary gallery of lives in shards shows us that “our memories are local, acute, and unrelenting.”
“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
“Lyrical, lusty, art-centric…Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl is as much about running as it is about standing still, and as much about confronting death as it is about rediscovering life…A kinetic art walk rich in observation, curiosity, reverence and impudence.”
“Every poem changes perspective in surprising ways with psychographic messages, because Seuss sees a world that combines versatility, tenderness, and sheer lingual strength… Craft, brightness, darkness; she’s writing at the top of her game.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books