Back to Issue Forty-Four

An Aria



How do I get my mind back? Yes, my mind.
The fascist, that murderer of half a million,
never had my body.
My body has been owned, but not by him.

I never liked backtracking.
Brush Road, Born Street.
I’ve walked those roads before, barefoot.
There is no going back to Born.

No mind left behind to recoup.
It’s like donated clothes you try to buy back
from the sucker who’s already wearing them.
But there is something to be claimed.

Some comrade to bust out of jail
who can’t see the way forward
even when you crack the chains.
In my pre-tit days, I’d walk to the empty outdoor

theater and sit on the playground equipment
beneath the screen. Everything in that place
was silver. Gravel, playground horses, and rocket ships
whose paint had chipped away by wind and time.

I knew nothing larger than that screen.
No god so sublime. Silver-white against the whiter clouds.
Peppered with purple bird shit.
When night falls, anything can project itself

against a face like that. Cartoons, or Vixen, rated X.
When the free-show man
came to town, he’d hang
a sheet between two trees

and project cowboy movies against it.
Kids sat on the grass eating popcorn
from greasy paper bags, watching ads
scroll down the screen.

Popcorn wasn’t free.
A free show is never really free.
Do you think someone didn’t die
on that sheet hung between two trees?

I once received a letter
from the current lover of the love
of my life telling me he’d overdosed and died.
She wrote on thin blue paper etched with flowers.

An act of grace I hadn’t earned.
I’d left him behind
knowing it was just a matter of time.
My mind has grown wooden around love,

like a tree that has nearly swallowed
a garden
gate where lovers met at moonrise
when the air was thick with Hesperis.

A musty, fatal scent, like punks
who refused to bathe.
Lovers long dead, gate
now opening only to the tree’s heartwood.

My son’s first love was Anne Frank,
after he read her diary. He was eight,
drawing portraits of her day and night.
I must have Anne, he said when I tucked him in,

though he knew she was dead, whatever that means.
This is the mind, sepia, color of dried blood.
Maybe the first love is the best love.
The first loss, the worst. If so, mine came early.

The rest is repetition compulsion,
iterations until the ink runs dry.
Still, remembering wakes my mind a little,
or some facsimile of the mind I used to be.

All activities of the mind now seem quaint,
like dolls with lace faces unearthed
from beneath the attic stairway.
My feelings, too, smothered like a kingdom

of bees so the buzzing
doesn’t draw attention to their honey.
Now, to unmuffle myself, I read Keats’ love letters,
written in a tubercular fever, then listen

to Marquee Moon, album by Television,
that Tom Verlaine band,
so aggressive live it made me start my period,
leave a lyric bloodstain on the chair.

Then I play “Gimme Shelter” on repeat to be awash
in the supremacy of Merry Clayton’s background vocals.
Called into the studio in the middle of the night, cold,
hair in curlers, pregnant, pushed out her scream-

song aria three times, and miscarried a daughter
the next day. She blamed it on the song
but not her voice. When she woke after a car accident,
years later, with amputated legs, she asked only

about her voice. Mother, may I sing again?
May I see again, not a symbol of a flower but Hesperis,
tolls again in the wind again. Flower of an hour.
A fragrant hour. Its face, skin, smile,

its opening again, the curtain of petals
closing over its face again.
May I take the murdered world in?
Sing of it again?


Diane Seuss is the author of five books of poetry. Her most recent collection is frank: sonnets (Graywolf Press, 2021), winner of the PEN/Voelcker Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and the Pulitzer Prize. Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf Press, 2015) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sixth collection, Modern Poetry, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2024. Seuss is a 2020 Guggenheim fellow. She received the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021. Seuss was raised by a single mother in rural Michigan, which she continues to call home.

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