STILL LIFE WITH DICTATOR
by Diane Seuss
Anyone can look at a bowl filled with plums.
Even the ones trampled beneath the hooves
of the general’s white horse—the peons,
the threshers, the nobodies. Food, the great
leveler. The nobodies must eat, even if
they resort to coffee grounds,
or sandwiches airlifted and dropped
into the jungle, teeming with maggots.
Food is food. Even the general must eat.
Even presidents, dictators. Hitler himself
would walk along the cliff’s edge from his
compound in Berchtesgaden to the round
teahouse in the trees. He’d settle himself
into the cushioned chair some nobody pulled
out for him, and into the nose positioned
over that cowcatcher mustache came
the scintillating fragrance of tea roses.
‘There must be fresh flowers!’ he’d barked
at the peons. As the steam from his tea
dampened his cowcatcher, his eyes lit
on the white bowl impassively holding
ten plums. He wanted to upend them, send
the white bowl spinning until it hit the curved
wall and broke into splinters the size of baby
teeth .‘Who cares?’ he wanted to say to the plums,
but they wouldn’t listen. Such an ordinary fruit;
he’d seen the nobodies wolfing them down
and spitting the pits in the air. Braying like donkeys,
like schoolboys. The plums mocked him
with their stillness. The sugar bowl mocked him,
the sugar spoon engraved with the fat head
of a thistle. Fruit sickened him, with its worms
and scars, its fermentation. Its plainness,
its roundness, its calm. It stared at him
like one of those nobodies who didn’t care
how many times it was whipped. One
of those who claimed to be beyond pain,
one with a glint of what the churches
would call holy light in their eyes. Plums,
taunting him until he grabbed one
and bit down and let the gold flesh
fill his mouth with its revolting sweetness.
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 (2010) 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 May 2018. Recent poems have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, and The New Yorker. Seuss was raised in rural southwest Michigan. ‘Still Life With Dictator’ originally appeared in Crab Creek Review.
ROOM is entirely dependent upon reader support. Please consider helping ROOM today with a tax deductible donation. Any amount is deeply appreciated.