Bernini's Chisel

What causes a person—say, in a family—to feel he or she is different than the other members, separate, an extra bit of jigsaw puzzle with unreliable hump, listing to the side of the table after the entire cardboard picture lies perfect and flat?

Who, finally, complies and merges—at every point—with the agreed upon shape of a human torso or preferred community type? Is arrival focussed by admirable intention or by an off-camera genetic predictor, trapped just at the periphery of departure? Perhaps it is more like the snapping back of a stretched rubber band to its inherent ovoid design? (Even now I see my current favorite—wide, flat and intensely violet in color—resisting an equal force designed to hold three stems of broccoli in place, pulling away from and then returning to its familiar elastic function of closure around them.) And what of disruption, departure... even from something that lodges so functionally within our grasp?

For instance, these opening lines—led by grammar and punctuation into the promise of coherence. Now I must turn my back on them. Is it the turning away that marks me? Is everyone else in my "family" looking inward to the center, or are they also turning their gaze sideways? Do they see the grey animal shadow whizzing along the floorboards? Do they hear the parquet geometry of the wooden floor expanding, as if giving-up an hour of footsteps randomly wandering backwards, forwards?

Daphne is rushing into leaves. Her mouth is stretching sideways into the opposite of an expanded, purposeful plan. Bernini's chisel lingers inside Apollo's right foot; he's finally coaxed the marble of the left leg into a sprint, showing veins breaking through. But Daphne is traveling ahead of herself. Why must the photograph of them come out of its envelope every year and be pinned to the wallpaper? A. still believes D. is the girl he thought she was and continues describing her to herself, even as tree bark is creeping between her thighs and pushing from roots that lift her body higher with the force of minute-by-minute growth.

They are two perfect bodies, entirely hard white marble caught in absolute dark. Bernini found the immense hunk of marble, brought down with ropes to the masonry yard near Pietra Santo. A wealthy man has paid for the purchase of it, as with gaining on a dream that's left nothing in you but a mute feeling-around for something lost... as in the gamble of horses or dogs contested and persuaded into predatory sport.

Bernini works in marble without knowing what it may deliver. He's in love with the slow revelation of the chase: Apollo's concentration, Daphne's uneasiness. She is fleeing, he knows that much. Apollo's claim of certainty should be gaining on her, shouldn't it? You can hear her breathing in the photograph, even as it is unpinned from the wall and put away in a box, yet exposing the anatomy of imagined capture, even when you are not looking at it.

The museum photographer, noting the Villa's high windows, lights the bodies to catch the dramatic hollows of ribs and male trunk. But it is Daphne's eyes, sliding into the immense pull of gravity, that stop you ... you have been taken by the hand and led to this. Bernini has entered them. The photographer is talking to himself and shifts the armature of high-wattage lighting.

Apollo almost has her, he thinks. You can tell by his floating, unclenched hand and the conviction in his eyes.  As deep and particular as oxygen entering cell walls. He needs—what?—to stop her and to hold the thing he knows must be his? Even though some part of him back there in the dark—and because of tracking her inside and outside of time—notices those tough green leaves... probably a kind of tree he doesn't recognize as local... and he's only just seen that they're sprouting, not only from her hands.

She did not think—or did she?—running towards herself and having no idea of where the next life might be. Out of sight seemed the place. She was inside and outside of him and visible, forced too soon by his definiteness. Her indefiniteness was not tolerable to his practiced will. She wanted the shape of a lintel.

When Bernini chipped the final piece of stone from the block of marble, he saw what he'd done. But it was too late and he'd already turned away.


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* "Bernini's Chisel" was first published in
Technologies of Measure: A Celebration of Bay Area Women Writers
, Spring 2002.

"Bernini's Chisel" was also published on the site Titanic Operas.