Assemblages 1

Nights like this when sleep won’t come, I open the shades for dreaming, for dreaming into.
Thirteen lighted stories in the building across the street display like stacked shadow boxes.
Oh, I know Cornell worked alone, made his art in a basement, and these are apartment windows,

but here are the same frozen intimacies, the same collages of time—neatly separate, as unaware
of anything other, before or after, as his vignettes are still. Each with its own feeling, its own
drama, distinct, yet connected. It’s easy to be sure that the backlit slow-dancing couple really
love one another; that on a floor below, the two children jumping on a bed are having a
sleepover. Next door, a study of alone—bottles beside a dark head, silhouetted by a TV with a
screen big enough to see the cop-show rerun. How is it an upright, motionless body looks so

And here, miniature intricacies: kitchen light flashes on, man opens overhead cabinet, shakes one
hand over the other, punctuates with head-back jerk and lifted glass. Below him, a woman fans
sheets over a sofa bed; sitting at a table, four men alternately slap down cards; a pajamaed boy
brushes his teeth, gargles and spits. Here, recessed reliquaries are filled with lamps, chandeliers,
bureaus, chairs, couches, and all the nostalgias they hold. Just as Cornell’s ticket stubs, trinkets,
five-and-dime toys, thimbles and maps belong to, are belonging to, the paper dolls, the wind-up
dolls, the sleeping and waking dolls that move through their narratives in boxes of brightly lit
urban life.