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SHADOW BOXES / Michael Waters in memoriam Joseph Cornell Six a.m. Td be walking those sycamorelined streets alone, red rubber ball in one hand, sawed-off broomstick on my shoulder, waiting for a few friends to rise, morning to commence among parked cars and manhole covers, the sun looming at last above tenement rooftops crisscrossed with clotheslines. His slanted cellar-door would be propped open and Td step down, eyes adjusting to the low wattage, into the enormous clutter of his workshop, tables strewn with wire, paint-slick slats of wood, severed dolls' heads, porcelain pipes, thimbles, tiny stoppered bottles cleansed of their lapsed medicines, birds' nests, children's building-blocks, their letters sandpapered off, brass rings, ticket stubs, magazines— the magazines!—tossed everywhere, 1940's illustrated ladies' weeklies, National Geographies, U.S. Army manuals, storybooks and road atlases and astronomical charts, greeting cards bought bulk in boxes from thrift shops, The Missouri Review · 31 this world so dense with detail and populated with such familiar yet somehow exotic bric-a-brac I'd forget I was below the thronged avenues of Flushing, 1964, my friends running bases on Utopia Parkway. For hours I'd sit on a high stool with long scissors, turning pages, carefully clipping pictures— parrots, Medici princes, even Lauren Bacallwhile he pasted them in boxes of his own devising, concentrating on each particular shade of blue, or the shape the paper made against a backdrop of winter stars, but this morning he stopped, staring into the wreckage for something— he wasn't conscious of what— until his glance chanced upon a ball balanced on a Coca-Cola bottle, and before I had the chance to say Wait, it's mine, he'd placed it— just so—on two thin wires suspended over wineglasses, each filled with a milky-blue cat's-eye marble, and now we were done for the day, at ease, sipping seltzer before I returned to stifling streets oddly empty, monochromatic, lacking a certain delicacy and playfulness, a world taken too 32 · The Missouri Review Michael Waters seriously in sunlight, intent upon its own inviolability as my eyes half-closed to glare slashing off fenders and hoods freshly washed and waxed and buffed a metallic blue, but still not the blue that blazed below the earth, in darkness, in a world where nothing would be lost, where everything was given purpose, if only it could remain patient. Michael Waters THE MISSOURI REVIEW · 33 THE FOX / Michael Waters After we peeled and dipped and sucked each leaf of the artichoke to reveal the fluted heart still steaming in its shaggy rind, after uncorking another light-proof bottle of homemade plum wine, we began telling our dreams, those that surprise us or bring back the romantic childhood urgencies long ago given over to the conservative wishes of adults— the wish to be simple, to hurt no one— when, low to the earth, scavenging the frostlit bristles of sawgrass for torpid mice, the fox appeared beyond the glass door, tarnished silver, mottled with mange, a rough rag torn from the hillside, a storybook fox cut-out with blunt scissors. The retrievers shook off their sleep then, ramming shoulders against the door, slathering the thick panes with foam till we hauled them, choke-chain, back. The fox paused, gazing at the hushed gathering only heartbeats away, then sidled off into the muffled trees, leaving us astounded, more than pleased, aware of a mild blessing bestowed upon friends. Later that night, I glimpsed our host's face pressed to the guest-room window while my wife and I undressed. Startled, I yelled, and he quickly stalked away between the wavering stems of starlight. During the awkward breakfast, he mentioned how he'd gone out in search of the fox, but found nothing but scat, the autumn earth too hard for tracks. Sometimes I dream of the fox in his lair, that secret, interior life 34 · The Missouri Review growing thinner, losing hair, starving, the alert intelligence sharpened by need helpless not to transform itself into grief, humiliation, the tense silence among friends in return for a moment of mournful revelation, the chimera of a child, however naked and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 31-35
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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