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Published: Sat Oct 15 2022
Ballad That Ends with Bitch

She was one of those long-nosed ones.
Mary, full of grace, cream atop the milk.
I picked my way through dung piles and bones.
Animal dung. Animals of every ilk.

All of us come with a ballad.
Hers was set in an Amish puppy mill.
Born in a mill, then forced to give birth.
Birth before she’d been a year on this cold earth.

She rolled on her back to show me her scar.
Playing dead, she showed me her spaying scar.
I have one of those, I said, but mine is perpendicular.
Little princess, I too have been opened with a crowbar.

My tenderness. I couldn’t find a way to say yes.
I felt splayed, my little scar exposed.
It’s all against our will, I suppose.
I stumbled through brambles to find my way, I guess.

A whole pathless hillside covered in sedge.
Barn cats arched their backs. Neutralizing agents.
Agents of indifference. Other animals pawed at the gate.
Looking to get in or out of grace or fate.

I walked her, using a piece of rope for a leash.
She knew nothing of a leash, that false umbilical cord.
On that tether, she wandered aimless, trampish.
Too small for this world, vast as a billboard.

I was once too small for this world.
Somebody burned my arm with a cigar.
They said they didn’t know I was there.
I believe them. I still have the scar.

She was a prototype of tenderness.
I wandered that hillside, this way and that.
I could not find my way to yes.
She was a child bride in a plastic crèche.

As I drove away, her borders dissolved.
She dispersed herself across the landscape like mist.
Through the fog I could still see her belly scar.
A horizon line, I told myself, divvying up that and this.

When I returned to my digs, the house was frozen stiff.
A fine skim of hoarfrost on the writing desk.
Why call it a writing desk?
It’s commerce-covered. Bills. Tat. That. This.

At age ten, I turned away from tenderness.
I remember the moment. A flipping of a switch.
My house is a cold mess except for that thing in the corner.
Poetry, that snarling, flaming bitch.

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Diane Seuss is the author of five books of poetry, most recently frank: sonnets (Graywolf Press, 2021), winner of the PEN / Voelcker Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her sixth collection, Modern Poetry, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2024. Seuss was raised by a single mother in rural Michigan, which she continues to call home. (updated 10/2022)

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