Lake Effect, Spring 2020, Volume 24: "Complaint of the Angel in the Cornell Box"

Complaint of the Angel in the Cornell Box

By Marjorie Stelmach


            It’s a narrow life: stale air,

muffled rumblings from beyond

the glass, light comes and goes.

Little else.

            She knows her place—

strung on a wire—and it’s not

unbearable, except she doesn’t sleep.

All night,

            she watches her reflection

in the glass. At dawn, when light

erases her, she catalogs his studio’s


            acorns, beads, pressed flowers,

tarnished keys, corks and clocks,

wheels. Nothing like studios

in the Age of Faith.

            But times change.

Inside the glass, lesser creatures

share her space, permanently


            Winged like her, but stuffed.

She allows herself no commerce

with their kind. They are

mere context.

            Tacked at her back hang

antique faces of fat-cheeked winds

clipped from old maps, a stave

and treble clef,

            sepia star charts. Perhaps

a comfort to the others? She herself

has no such need. Maybe they’re

meant as symbols:

            constellations to evoke

migrations, maps to mark

the wintering lands, sheet music

as a prod toward

            praise song?

What’s the point? These birds

won’t be singing anytime soon.

She understands

            she is his centerpiece here,

but it seems wrong. Where are

the mother and child, the saints

and cherubs,

            the haloes? Still, he chose

her for this. She will abide.

All he asks is that she shall not want.

Her order renounced

            desire ages back,

but it’s still a lot to ask, given

that want is surely what stirs him

to collect, arrange,

            and cage. Why else these

shelves of cramped boxes, dusty

props, stopped hearts? Why else this

avian box

            of songlessness

and longing? She never thought

he’d leave her here this long,

alone, unlooked upon.

                        She’d hoped

one day she would be taken up,

assigned a place where she might

serve a purpose,

            beyond this diminished realm

of airlessness and dust. If she has

failed him, it’s his fault. It was he

who taught her

            what it is to want: to choose,

to create, to control. What she wants

is out. How dare he turn her to

an emblem of

            lost faith? She wants her place

in history back, wants to be part

of a work in progress. If this

is progress, she wants

            no part of Art.