Unboxed Shadow (Hirshhorn)

Cornell Box

In the drawer, a tiny bundle of newsprint
waits for paper fingers
to untie its secrets. Inside
their China cabinet coffin,
glass eyes almost
see. I tilt
towards a convex wall
where iron and bronze
sculptures anchor those
who forget that the absence of corners
can lead to infinite revolutions.

On a backless couch I open
to a page, rendering
without success the faces
of cardboard children.
How do you make paper dolls?
My voice is token, the question
dropping at the feet of all artists
in residence including the legion
of ghosts trapped
inside cupboards,
including him when he joins me
on the bench. The absence
of answers is a trench
that houses my remains.
Rigor mortis sets in
to the broken ink.

Then he opens
his book to me and
torso, head, shoulder, hip
stand aligned in formation,
mechanical numbers matching joint
to hinge like a diagram of cuts
on a Christmas lamb. This is how
we snap together. He leans both face
and back to me, riveting our ribs
into a single domed cage
where we go with the spoils of our seeking
to tinker with coin and husk
and plaster dust,
leaving
and returning
through any of the 49 doors
whose locks
are missing their hasps
which is a good thing
when onionskin
is all we have
for keys.


Images: Joseph Cornell’s 1936 Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) on WikiArt

and 1948 Medici Princess on the Smithsonian Newsdesk

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6 thoughts on “Unboxed Shadow (Hirshhorn)”

  1. Seven-thirty. Driving northwest out of town,
    the snowscape dusky, sky tinted smoky peach.
    In the rear view mirror, a bright orange glow
    suffuses the stubbly treeline. Suddenly a column
    of brightness shoots from the horizon,
    a pillar of fire! One eye on the road,
    I watch behind me the head of a golden
    child begin to push up between the black knees
    of the hills. Two weeks out from Solstice, the sun
    so near winter it seems to rise in the south.
    A fiery angel stands over his cradle of branches.
    And what strange travelers come to honor him?
    And what gift will I bring to him this day?

    “Advent Dawn” by Thomas R. Smith

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