collage = reality – Joseph Cornell
what if I’m a mermaid – Tori Amos
Each frame is both window and cage
in Cornell’s boxes. Objects housed
are animated by their shallow space,
glass pane and attendant gaze. I surveyed
these dioramas in a book I snuck to my room.
In one, a wide-eyed doll ensnared in branches.
In another: butterflies and encyclopedia pages,
parrots looking on. Another: sheet music,
cork balls, crystal cordial glasses.
A pipe whose smoke is seashells.
Apothecary bottles filled with liquids,
bones, and wings. And a crinolined girl
borne aloft, a balloon, by threads of her dress.
Each item in these compositions is alert
in its small altar. In the hoard of my home,
there was no room to move. I’d curl myself
in the sill of my window, looking at books
and replaying one cd. Piano glinted hints
of what our own broken piano could do,
in the parlor, if made way to, via threadlike paths
through stacks of trash, unearthed from platelets
of clutter. Cornell bought trinkets he turned to art
from antique and dime stores, second hand shops.
A surrealist, he juxtaposed unlikely objects
to both contrast and yoke them. My mother, too,
furnished our lives this way, assembling antiques
and refuse with acute attention, everywhere.
On the front of the liner notes, Tori folds her body
in a box in endless empty space, arranging
that famous orange cloud of hair, her gaze and bent
body, over a tiny toy piano. In my favorite song,
she’s maybe a mermaid: grieving and mythical,
both at once. She asks, “can I be you for a while”,
but she already is, herself and myself,
a lovelorn siren, a chiming chimera.
Surrealists keel the unconscious, shake
the foundation of what you think is true.
The house was its own grand assemblage,
each room a box that housed mother’s junk
treasures, each item rife with meanings for her.
A girl with no space to take up but my window,
I assembled myself there, with my Walkman,
and sang along. I gazed and sang
from my window frame, extending beyond it
now and then by dangling a limb and letting it toll
like the tongue of a bell that marks time.
Emily Pulfer-Terino is a poet and writer whose work has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Hunger Mountain, The Collagist, The Southeast Review, Poetry Northwest, Stone Canoe, The Louisville Review, Juked, and other journals and anthologies. Her poetry chapbook, Stays The Heart, is published by Finishing Line Press. She has been a Tennessee Williams Poetry Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and has been granted a fellowship for creative nonfiction at the Vermont Studio Center. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University, and she lives in Western Massachusetts.
The Ekphrastic Review
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