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 silently, 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.