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A Review of Marianne Moore and Joseph Cornell

“124 was spiteful.”

In the opening line of Beloved, Toni Morrison poses a question within a statement. “Who or what is 124 and who or what drives their spite?” However simple or complex, the author need not be living, for it is by the reader’s will they may seek to explore a meaning meant or assumed.

With any work, there exists the possibility that the entry point provides a certain risk. For example, while the first sentence of any given work is but a rat-sized door into Wonderland, it does not imply exemption from dangerous and/or comforting encounters. By fitting through the door- that is, reading beyond what the keyhole provides, the reader undertakes the journey of interacting with the curiosities of reason and riddle.

In approaching Moore and Cornell, there is bounty in simplicity- which is to say, the very lines of an ‘H’ as written in cursive or calligraphy communicate a message beyond what the eye can sense. As written by a writer with Parkinson’s, ‘H’ is a triumph of mental calisthenics, actualized by two opposing poles that persevere to form a jolting jot. To a toddler, ‘H’ is a rite of passage into the uncharted waters of school. To Moore, ‘H’ is a nostalgic Nyquil, and to Cornell, it is a stopwatch stew.

In Moore’s works, there is a consistency in returning to nature, which some might say is a labor of love driven by curiosity for the predictable unknown. It’s a portrait of Alice’s sense wrestling with antigravity and clawing for conditions that escape her control. It’s pelicans in the paragraphs and the turning of the tide-like pages that spew out storied shells. Moore’s words failing or succeeding to reel in her audience largely depends on what each reader has an appetite for or by sheer environment, has been raised to respond to.

With Cornell, much is the same, but different, in the sense no two birds are entirely alike. And how appropriate too. By placing plumes in a box, we reduce a wide wind to a can of bottled air. Ingest at your own will and question what nutritional properties they serve. In a phrase, we’re left with a longing to chip the resin of time and record the hypothetical conversations of people just like us. His dream boxes are as they sound: windows into a world both familiar and foreign, interpreted as having the meaning meant or assumed.

I know of myself, Cornell’s works had an almost phantom-like pull (A boxed I Spy, if you will). Something about an age gone by. I was reminded of my grandparents’ lemon bush and the time I laminated its leaves as to make a bookmark my grandfather may or may not have used. Gifted right after they sold their house and moved into an assisted-living facility, I watched as my material memory continued to age inside its plastic coffin. To me, the experience of looking at a Cornell was deeply personal. I remembered what the lemons used to be. By the time JP stopped terrorizing me and Lexie with baseball-sized citruses and Nana was too tired to make fresh lemonade, I came to its coffin to claim the leaves of youth. I saw in Cornell, the need to page-press these living memories. As if hitting ‘replay’, I was comforted by the reel of repeating breath. Though willows weather and new families move into the nests we discard, Cornell remains my lemon bush-the reminder that change is only temporary and heaven is the home I seek.

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