Minor in Art Nouveau
Some with better taste believe
it isn't, finally, art,
too shallow for root furrows, all surface,
long, smooth lines finely arched,
perfect faces, never feral, never flushed,
flat and lovely in their smileless sameness;
the fluent furniture and
silvery buildings too,
dreamily consonant with what goes on inside --
or not. Who knows if anything reaches you.
Out where we lived, when I was a kid,
we had an old silver piece I longed to possess,
a sterling matchbox miming
a stainless lighter case,
with tarnished grooves, softer than sheet steel,
and empty; dark and rough inside, surface cast
in a gently swelling, continuous spiral,
its lid hinged with a single steel pin. I guess
it must have had a hinge
spring, but simple,
nothing but the hinge pin to break or to wear out.
Its provenance was a minor mystery, a miracle
my family lineage had a link so perfect.
It must have come from one of my uncles,
who as a boy smoked Egyptian
from silver-foil-lined cardboard boxes,
but who grew old to roll his own with Target
in thin, hard paper trademarked with a sail or top.
Whoever bought the thing, and when, it descended
to me because no one could
afford to get me
the plastic match case I wanted for Boy Scouts.
As a place for matches, the hollow art seemed
willing to be useful in the wild outdoors,
but it was made for more aesthetic purposes.
Too small for the big wooden
that we used to start the jug-fed kerosene stove,
it would barely hide a packet of flat
cardboard safety lights already folded
inside colored advertising for cigarettes or schools.
For years I hung on to it,
safe in a drawer,
because I really did prefer the little splints
for flicking flames among the flowers,
and with the blue-tipped upright slivers of pine
pushed into the case, the lid would almost close.
Sometimes, remembering it,
deep in desk or dresser, certain it's misplaced.
Of course, I never find it, and assuage
myself with hope that it will finally re-appear.
I think of it often, now that it's lost,
a decoration around nothing, useless.