Bernini's Chisel -- Kathleen Fraser

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? It is I, one says to one's listening part, this undesignated fragment ''I", unique in not fitting the required measurements.

Who, finally, complies and merges--at every point--with the agreed upon shape of a human torso or preferred community type? Is the best boy's arrival focused 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 while yet holding the green florets of broccoli in place, pulling away from and returning to its familiar elastic closure around the stems.)

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. Stretched sideways her mouth, the opposite of an explanded, purposeful "Ohhhm." Bernini's chisel is inside Apollo's right foot, as his left leg raises in a sprint that shows veins breaking through the white marble. Daphne is traveling ahead of herself, thinking away. Why must the photograph come out of the envelope every year and be pinned to the wallpaper? He still believes she is who he thought she was and continues describing her to herself even as tree bark is creeping like vernix or a caul between her thighs, sprouting from sapling roots that lift her body higher with the force of broad vegetation expanding and speeding-up in minute-by-minute growth.

They are two perfect bodies, entirely hard white marble against absolute dark...or would have been. Bernini found the immense hunk of marble, brought down with ropes and will-power, in the masonry yard near Pietra Santo. A wealthy man paid for the purchase of it, as with gaining on a dream that has left nothing in you but the mute gape of loss...or, in the gamble of horses or dogs contested and persuaded into predatory sport. Bernini worked in marble without knowing what it could deliver; he was in love with the chase. Apollo was certain, Daphne uneasy. His wish was gaining on her. You can hear her inhalation and feel the wind tugging at the length of hand-woven linen blown back over him. Bernini's hand pulls impermissable folds from the fabric he's thrown across Apollo's sex, where an uncontained branching of tree roots exposes the artist's arrival at capture.

The museum photographer lights the sculpture to catch the shadows, hollows below ribs and male trunk. Inside of Apollo's elbow, her eyes fall into the immense pull of gravity. You have been taken by the hand and led to this. ("Bernini has entered some part of them," the photographer thinks as he poises and shifts the armature of high-wattage lighting). Apollo is almost sure he has her...you can tell by his floating, unclenched hand and a conviction in the eyes as deep and particular as oxygen entering cell walls (his need to stop and hold the thing he knows will be his, even though some part of him back there in the dark--and because of tracking her inside and outside of time--sees the tough green leaves, a kind of tree he does not recognize as local, sprouting not only from her hands but from her ragged twists of hair).

"It would seem that a god endowed with all the charms of youth, strength and grace would find few to resist him."

It would seem swagger, in the name of love, carries history.

Indeed, the amorous adventures of Apollo were numerous...he tried in vain to seduce Daphne, "a nymph as chaste as she was beautiful". When she refused to submit, he attempted to ravish her; but she fled. "He overtook her and she already felt the eager arms of the god around her..." But she called out to Gaea to help her, and the earth gaped open. Daphne was gone. It was after that when love arrived.

He thought "capture."

She did not think--or did she?--running towards herself and having no idea of where to go. 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 away from the block of marble, he saw what he'd done. But it was too late, he'd already turned away.

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