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On First Looking into Joseph Cornell’s DiariesAugust Kleinzahler
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Vol. 17 No. 9 · 11 May 1995
Poem

On First Looking into Joseph Cornell’s Diaries

August Kleinzahler

402 words

The soppressata fée outside of Califano’s
with the swept back ’do and blood on her smock
grabs a quick smoke on the sidewalk,
tosses it in the gutter then sucks back her lips
till they smack, getting her lipstick right.
                           Fierce little thing ...
My freight elevator makes a distant whump
then squeals to a stop on one of the floors back there
behind my left ventricle.
                            OUT OF SERVICE
for months, I am at first alarmed then refreshed.

     *******

What a preposterously spring-like day on Anderson Avenue
for the depths of February.
                             You can hear the snow melt
under the parked cars, and the #4 School crossing guard,
burly and moustachioed, reminds me just then
of an elderly Victor McLaglen, a favourite of the children
and somewhat stooped in his waning years
but ever that loyal and gallant pal from Gunga Din.

     *******

Try as I might now for weeks I still cannot find
the space I need to contain the Clorox label
which would go behind and to the right
of the orange box of gelatine stool softeners.

     *******

There is that and the far larger dilemma,
one that has resisted me and my wiles for years:
to find a distillate or tincture
of daytime TV commercials for the ladies –
Pond’s Cold Cream, say, or diaper rash powders –
then somehow reconstitute and fashion the flavour
to a doctor’s waiting-room and a blue plastic chair
(in the modern Italian design style)
with a splayed, greasy Mademoiselle
from the previous June left underneath.

(Oh, but if I could only unknot that one
every arroyo and vista would open up to me)

I go park awhile outside the boarded-up Dairy Queen
and try to find Fauré’s ‘Berceuse’.
                                    A gust of wind
rocks the car, just perceptibly,
and then it comes to me, is served up to me, really:

warm butterscotch syrup and the Little League parade.

     *******

My condition intrudes
and all the air goes right out of me.
It is the bad feeling. I call it Dolph.
It smells of roofing tar and makes my pineal gland itch,
itch till it aches.

It spreads into my extremities and lays waste my strength
so that never again will my inventions come to life:

that little green chutney bottle in a field of stars
and the doll’s taffeta apron ...

nor will I bathe ever again with the divine Mavlakapova
in my special Thursday dream.

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