The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday and Hillwood Peepers

By Diane Seuss

The grief, when I finally contacted it
decades later, was black, tarry, hot,
like the yarrow-edged side roads
we walked barefoot in the summer.

Sometimes we'd come upon a toad
flattened by a car tire, pressed into
the softened pitch, its arms spread out
a little like Jesus, and it was now

part of the surface of the road, part
of the road's story. Then there was
the live toad I discovered under
the poison leaves of the rhubarb,

hiding there among the ruby stems,
and if you ate those stems raw,
enough of them, you'd shit yourself
for days. It isn't easy to catch a living

thing and hold it until it pees on you
in fear. Its skin was the dull brown
of my father's clothes, my grandfather's
clothes as he stood behind the barber's

chair, clipping sideburns, laying a warm
heap of shaving cream over a bristly chin,
sharpening his straight razor and swiping it
over the foam-covered cheek of my father,

who often shaved twice a day, his beard
was so obstinate, even in the hospital bed.
When I laid a last kiss on his young cheek,
the scraping hurt my lips. Do you ever

wonder, in your heart of hearts,
if God loves you, if the angels love you,
scowling, holding their fiery swords,
radiating green light? If your father

loved you, if he had room to love you,
given his poverty and suffering, or if
a coldness had set in, a cold-bloodedness,
like Keats at the end, wanting a transfusion

of the reader's life blood so he could live
again. Either way, they're all safely
underground, their gentleness or ferocity,
their numb love, and my father's

tar-colored hair, and the fibers of his good
suit softened by wood tannins,
and grandfather's glass eye with its
painted-on mud-colored iris,

maybe all that's left of him in that walnut
box, and Keats and his soft brown clothes,
and the poets before and after him.
But their four-toed emissary sits

in my hand. I feel the quickening pulse
through its underbelly. Hooded eyes,
molasses-tinged, unexpressive,
the seam of its mouth glued shut.


I've posted this poem before but I think it's brilliant. "The poem began with a toad," Seuss told "It had been a long time since I'd seen one...I followed it deep, into grief and some cold-blooded questions. The poem ends with the same toad."

My Tuesday started with some entertainment, namely squirrels discovering that we had put a pumpkin left over from Halloween on the deck and proceeding to gnaw their way to the seeds, even though we'd cut the top off to help them. I did some laundry and some cleaning-up-the-basement, not that you'd notice since it's mostly the laundry room that benefited. Paul worked from home to wrestle with our new modem, which did not cooperate much on Monday -- it's better now, knock wood -- and Adam did tax stuff, though we all got to have lunch together. If I had known earlier that it was Penguin Awareness Day, I would have done more to make people aware of penguins!

We went to see Foxcatcher, which in many ways is not my kind of movie (wrestling + murder + pathetic women's roles despite big name actresses = nope), though the performances are superb, even though the fact that this movie got two Oscar nominations in those categories and Selma got none is unforgivable. We ended up having California Tortilla for dinner because the chicken the meat-eaters were going to eat looked questionable. I paid almost no attention to the State of the Union (sorry Obama) and none whatsoever to the rebuttal -- I figure Stewart and Wilmore will cover the best parts much better than the news will. Some Hillwood Gardens toads from last spring:


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