STILL LIFE WITH TWO DEAD PEACOCKS AND A GIRL

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STILL LIFE WITH TWO DEAD PEACOCKS AND A GIRL, BY DIANE SEUSS

Seuss’s fourth collection of poetry, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, is not unlike traversing a manor with many rooms. Each room contains unsettling portraits—bodies (often women, sometimes animals, frequently the speaker) in various poses, ranging from the innocuous to the overly violent. “We do not want / to be strange with one horn growing out of our foreheads. / We want to be what the others have been…” claims the speaker in “Bowl,” yet the thesis of Seuss’s collection seems to be to expose the strangeness of what we normalize and the magnetism of what we do not want to see. These poems juxtapose uncomfortably: American cheese and “recently beaten” bloody mouths, island waitressing and glass-shattered bones, a tenderly held baby and stomping feet...

Much like the girl in Rembrandt’s eponymous painting, readers are made to gaze upon something visceral and whether scenes are meant to be read as brutal or luscious isn’t always clear. Compellingly, the collection is punctuated by portions of the painting, culminating in a full reproduction of the girl admiring the two dead birds. Her poems themselves imitate this crescendo, until we leave (like the speaker in “I Climbed Out of a Painting Called Paradise”) the book—the manor—unsettled by what we have seen, by the discomfort that Seuss wants us to maintain in our daily gaze.

Graywolf Press.