she who was once the helmet-maker’s beautiful wife

A sculpture by August Rodin 1880-85 at The Hirshhorn, Washington, D.C. 2001

Her skin flows
          lava, rippling
down her frail neck, rib cage, legs –
then solidifies, bronzed.
          Gravity – hypnotic –
tugs at her deflated breasts. Punctuated
by sunken nipples, invisible aureoles, they lounge
against her ribs, her tired mound of belly.
Her hair hangs in a horseshoe on her back.
Her kneecaps jut in knotted knobs, dark
and pockmarked as peppercorns.

The pitted surfaces of her skin 
refract the museum light, 
          deflect her despair 
to her companions – Crouching Woman, 
Head of Sorrow, Kneeling Woman Combing Her Hair. 
The Hirshhorn docent points at her, 
while students scribble in notebooks, 
          raincoats tossed over their arms. 
Rodin insists she was once beautiful, 
and maybe she was, but today 
and until bronze disintegrates, 
her essence hides within a craggy oyster shell, 
pearly, air-thin bones under loose-fitting skin.

     Inside her hollows, she just remembers 
wandering to her husband’s shop 
on woolen summer evenings, 
moonlight glancing off canary grass, 
a whippoorwill’s lament in liquid air.

          Goosebumps blossomed 
on her skin as she watched his shoulders 
strain in the light from the fire. 
She silently slid her fingers over the cool ridge 
of a helmet, her own reflection – beguiling – 
in the metal-mirror curve.   

She loved to seduce him on those ancient evenings, 
the helmets – like a crowd 
     of   floating,   gleaming   heads   –   peering 
as she and her husband 
          made tangled love 
                    on the dusty floor.

~ by Cathy Birdsong Dutchak
July 12, 2001

Today, I go in search of the sculpture at the Hirshhorn, but because of an exhibit called Damage Control: Art and Destruction since 1950, much of the permanent collection has been put in storage. No one at the museum can even tell me if the sculpture is even still part of the permanent collection. I wrote this poem over 10 years ago in a poetry class, inspired by art at the Hirshhorn.

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21 thoughts on “she who was once the helmet-maker’s beautiful wife

    1. I had never heard of it before until we went to the museum for that poetry class. Now that I’ve been looking for it online, I see there seem to be numerous casts of it all over the world. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Gilly, and I will share them, little by little. I don’t really think of myself as a poet, but I really did enjoy the poetry classes I took in 2001 and I wrote a lot of poems as a result of that class. I don’t feel confident about them, so have always kept them private. But hopefully I can get up the courage to share. 🙂

      1. YOu don’t feel confident about them!!! that’s crazy this one is superb, I wish I’d written it but my poems are very niaive and are likely to stay that way. More please!

      2. Ah, Gilly, you are too kind. Thanks so much for saying this, but my poetry repertoire is very limited, unlike yours! You’re very prolific and a wonderful poet. And your poems are not naive!!

        I will post mine, but there won’t be many. 🙂

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