Elephant

(Tokyo, 9 May 2005)

Chips of marble swept idly from Michelangelo’s floor by the cleaning boy,
 gathered in bags and thrown to the street
A coin, perhaps from his master to have them taken away

So close to immortality – as if we could tell the stones anything
about that – so close to defining the subtle hook of Zeus’ stern brow,
that strand of David’s curl a thousand generations of schoolgirls have
longed to smooth into place. But cleft away as a finishing touch –
yes, that looks better – by indistinguishable whim and genius of the
artist.

Each facet cries to the wavering chisel – it is beautiful here, this
curve of the cheek, isn’t it?
No doubt the feet could use some attention. Let me stay, it is an easy
thing, isn’t it?
Let me be a part of something great.

Chips of marble, swept. Do they call a farewell to their kin as they
fall? Forged of fire in the earth’s heart, forged in days before our
hairy ancestors were even glimmers in the eye of Darwin’s clever trick
– or does it matter to them?

The old saw goes that an artist, asked for instruction, explained it
this way: you begin with a large block of granite, and simply chip
away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.

Chips of marble, swept. The stone deep inside still sleeps, uncaring;
it is not ready to be bothered by this fleeting world. It is only on
the surface where the action is.

I run my fingers over this small fragment, fished from the gutter in
an idle moment. Then straighten my back, check my papers one last
time, and step out into the world, trying my best to look like an
elephant.

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