Maureen Seaton

Maureen Seaton’s poems throw “the chicken spread-eagled on the butcher block” creating word play that stirs the grotesque and the sacred in the same pot. Her latest collection Furious Cooking (University of Iowa, 1996), winner of the Iowa Prize for poetry and the Lambda Book Award, creates both blood-red images and gauzy, mysterious notions. In the poem “The Red Hills” her first two lines decapitate the reader with “[t]he power of the world is round:/ bomb, uterus, cul-de-sac.” Yet finishes with the tender “[i]n the darkness we are all holy.”

Susan Wheeler writes in the Boston Review that “Seaton’s language is a match for her fierce gaze.” Seaton’s “gaze” spills across politics, society, religion, art and history with the dictionary under the seat and the vernacular speeding behind the wheel. In the poem “Malleus Maleficarum” she bombards readers with her forceful language “[l]ike a youngster’s guts spilled/ on the sidewalk of the Lincoln Avenue bridge./ I caused nothing, simpletons, yet you rush to apply thumb screws to make confession/ inevitable.” But to avoid predictablity she also creates the unexpected moment of softness in the poem “Swan Lake,” “[t]he night swells around us./Our voices, tense with lightening,/ create a new silence.”

Seaton’s other volumes of poetry include Exquisite Politics (with Denise Duhamel, Tia Chucha Press, 1997), The Sea Among the Cupboards (New Rivers Press, 1992), winner of the Capricorn Award and The Society of Midland Authors Award; and Fear of Subways (Eighth Mountain, 1991), winner of the Eighth Mountain Prize.

Her poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, New England Review, The Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ploughshares. She has also received grants from the NEA fellowship and the Illinois Arts Council. She has an MFA from Vermont College.

Poetry Center Reading:

Fall 1997 (with Denise Duhamel)

White Balloon

“To love something you know
will die is holy.”
Kaddish, AIDS Memorial, 
New York, 1987

The air is gravid with life,
the cloudless sky swells
with souls, ascending

I’m in charge of one young soul
tied to my wrist
with a string that won’t break.

St. Veronica’s, the end of June:
You weep beside me, hold
a candle steadily near the flame.

Earlier we were two ladies
shopping on Broadway. I recall
your wire of a body,

the delicate arc of ribs
and small breast above – this
as you quick-changed

in search of something radical,
feminine. Your terror of pink
amused me. You said:

Don’t tell anyone
of this sudden reversal. I said:
I will, but I’ll change your name.

Linda, it’s the letting go
that terrifies: the night air
alive with rising ghosts,

the cries of strong men
grieving in each other’s arms,
the ease with which we love.

From FEAR OF SUBWAYS (Eighth Mountain, 1991)

A Constant Dissolution of Molecules

Some tissue. such as bone, is especially dynamic. Each body structure has its own rate
of reformation: the lining of the stomach renews itself in a week; the skin is entirely
replaced in a month; the liver is regenerated in six weeks . … after five years one can
presume that the entire body is renewed, even to the very last atom.
      -Larry Dossey, Space, Time, and Medicine

My lovers blur. They say, for instance: “You are too good to be true.”
They stand beneath the bells of Queen of Angels at noon
and pretend the noise hurts their ears. They make faces like Chaplin,
like Desi Arnaz. Their right thighs have been used for skin grafts
although she was burned in a campfire, she almost lost an arm.
There were any number of accidents involving my lovers
on something strong like Bacardi, something weak like Colt 45.
One fell between the cars of the 2 train, one went through a windshield.
No, two went through a windshield. One landed on the hood of a truck,
one on the pavement in the middle of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Here are the scars, here are the keloids, here are the wounds of my lovers.
One lover stands before me and her eyes look as deep as another lover’s
and she says through hazel: “I am afraid of you.” When my
body accidently arches in a swan pose, she looks at me and says:
“I can see why your other lovers would kill to keep you.” My
brown-eyed lover is inscrutable above me. She plays me like a keyboard,
says: “You are too good to be true,” her palpitations audible.
I am too good to be true though I give her myself for complex reasons,
none of which inspires awe. All my lovers got sober in 1980, 1985, 1990,
renewing themselves like phosphorus in the bone, linings of the intestine.
My lovers are so fragile! They love to fish and throw the fish back in,
to wash their hair in the trout stream-and look, every one of them
sits beside me as I write and says: “I love it when you write about me.”
My lovers are systematic about control. One hoots out the window at women
beneath the El train. One hints at a liaison with Calvin, an old buddy
who wears panty hose. One is chasing her ex-girlfriend
up the stairs at an AA dance. We are all fighting now, my lovers and I,
fighting on Broadway in New York, Broadway in Chicago,
wherever there is a Broadway my lovers and I will be fighting.
Listen to our voices as they rise above the Hudson, above Lake Michigan.
I went to California without a lover. I rented a white Cavalier, this part is true,
and drove into high desert, far above sea and prairie. It was heady,
all that driving and calculation. I was counting my lovers. I was thinking
I might fall off a cliff on Highway 1, plunge into turquoise.
My mind danced like pollen in stilled water. I thought:
At this very moment my organs are replacing themselves – I am no more
fixed in time and space than Minnie Mouse! Even my priceless DNA
exists for a few short months, exchanging itself with earth and star.
Why, my oId heart is probably fodder for lungfish and sponge,
my lovers planted at sea like treasure, their tiny eyes blinking light.

From FURIOUS COOKING (University of Iowa, 1996)

Self-Portrait with Disasters

Imagine. I once walked the entire length
of Croton-on-Hudson in Hurricane Bob because
I liked the smell of ozone and destruction.
Then fell into snow so deep I drowned,
but that was in a dream, and since then, the only thing I fear is waking. Now
when people hate me they say I must think
I’m powerful. The man who shot himself
in Missoula, on the other hand, had no power.
Once. he said, he saw his wedding mattress
floating down Broadway in South Yonkers.
His wife had thrown it out and a flood rose
and loosened it from the trash. I thought,
how amazing that Broadway stretches
from Albany to Battery Park and back again,
that beneath my feet lies the bedrock
of a shifting continent, above my head,
dust of a trillion dying stars. In fact,
I myself am suspended in the devastation.
For this moment only, I am the light.

From FURIOUS COOKING (University of Iowa, 1996)