Red ass, purple heels, four Chihuahuas
Self-Portrait with Herbarium
I bought pre-moistened bathing cloths for invalids
in order to avoid the shared bathroom and shower.
I did not want to eat with the others, so I lived on
Saltine crackers I stored in a metal container to keep
away moisture, and wormy apples from the orchard.
I walked the grounds only after dark, and often
ducked beneath the low arbor to visit the graves
of the founders to thank them for the trees
and meadows, the small gray squirrels and the toads
that leapt with every step I took, and all the plants
that composed my herbarium. I took pleasure less
in the plants themselves than in their categorization.
I went to the library often, but only in the dead
of night. We each had a key, which revealed to me
a degree of trust that seemed, at best, naïve.
Some nights, but rarely, I came upon some other
lost soul out looking at the moon, which was gold
and swollen. I worried—did she?—that it would
break open and spill its seed over the meadows.
To me, the animals, deer and foxes and such,
seemed terribly lonely. Even the pond shivered
in its loneliness, and the mountain, for as far
as the eye could see there was nothing
to which it could compare itself. Owls called out
to each other but were only answered by cemeteries.
How did I return to the world? One night
I walked beyond the stone gate, not through
any intention of escape, but only to seek a rare
flower I could press in the pages of a heavy
book and add to my collection. One quiet
foot in front of the other until I found
myself walking faster, as if pursued,
though no one was invested in calling me
back. Still, at dawn, I felt like a freed prisoner.
The purple night lifted its heavy curtain
on a day like an unripe peach, orange and softly
green and curved. Mist lifted away
from the fields revealing that what I’d thought
were boulders were actually cows, reddish,
lifting their white faces to look in my direction.
Diane Seuss’s most recent collection, Four-Legged Girl, was published in 2015 by Graywolf Press and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open won the Juniper Prize and was published in 2010. Her fourth collection, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2018. Seuss is Writer in Residence at Kalamazoo College.