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     after Desiderio da Settignano's marble tondo "Meeting of Christ
     and John the Baptist as Youths"


Under Desiderio da Settignano's tools, the two boys must have pressed
up and out as through a veil, a caul, the marble block warmed by his polishing

as though stone were transmuting to skin, mouths panting softly, opening,
soft eyes opening in luminous stone. Open. Open. That prayer

of childbirth, a desperate willed acceptance, choosing what can't
not be chosen: dumb surrender of the body. Be broken, torn;

be opened, flayed; be naked, shaking. Desiderio, what tore you open?
Though your story's lost, these your stone children bear

the sweet mark of sorrow, and of the end you knew—John's bearded head
on a plate, the gush of blood and water from Christ's side, and before

the mystery of mysteries, the temple curtain ripped in two. Oh flesh.
Wail, moan, be touched, be torn, until we know the body to be nothing more

than the wound through which the spirit is pierced. Stay, stay, your chisel rang,
and fell silent. Almost six centuries later these two boys, cut

and hammered and touched into existence, still cannot stop themselves,
they must grasp each other. They are, yes, made flesh, they are beings

bodied forth. Their two hands sink into John's curly fleece tunic and they quiet
themselves to feel the heart's one muffled note repeating its astonishment:

Alive. Alive. How many times, Desiderio, did you put down your tools
to touch stone as it melted into skin, here, where each new age of living fingers

has rubbed the sensuous marble smooth? Did you feel what Mary felt,
touching Elizabeth as the paintings show—the leaping response

of Elizabeth's baby boy within the womb? Warmth carried forward
from one generation into the next, spark passed from breath to breath.