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Matthew Buckley Smith



      Here in the studio, everything has its place
      And every man his tools and given task.
      I am the one that makes the egg-and-dart.
      Outsiders seldom recognize the term:
      It names the trim on certain walls and columns,
      Sometimes around the edge of a relief,
      That alternates an oval with a bar
      Forever in a perfect marble band
      The excellence of which is not being seen.
      You have not seen it many times before.
      Next time, perhaps, you will not think of me,
      The nobody who gives this nothing shape,
      The oldest in our studio by far,
      Apart from the old master—just my senior,
      As in the first days, by a few short years,
      The length of an apprenticeship for most.

      The master’s own apprenticeship concluded,
      Perhaps too early, with a masterpiece:
      A seraph in a doorway gazing on
      A child Madonna shrouded like a crone,
      Her misery suspended by the word
      The angel brings of joy soon to be born,
      And soon thereafter fixed upon a cross.
      The scene was carved from one seamless pink slab,
      The maker hardly older than the maid.
      It is a wonder. Go sometime and see.

      Four decades since have not produced the like.
      Such is my master’s failure, justly grand,
      As mine is justly slight enough to keep
      Within the margins where I’ve made a life
      Of egg-and-dart-and-egg-and-dart-and-egg.
      Sometimes a serif or a curlicue
      Alters the line, a blossom now and then,
      Brief variations on a constant theme.
      I make the new boys practice till they weep.
      For them I’m yet no different than the master,
      Another beard, another marble hand.
      The older ones know better. Egg-and-dart
      They loathe, and gladly shirk, and cannot think
      Of anything but being soon beyond it.
      They make good sport of me: the Knave of Darts,
      Methuselah, the Master’s Wife, his Mother.
      Each cohort think their cleverness the first.

      Some have, it’s true, succeeded, in a way.
      A few have set up workshops of their own,
      Contending for commissions now with us—
      Dull, churchy tableaux mostly, gaudy stuff
      Fit only for the pious and the rich.
      Not one of them has yet achieved a piece
      Like that with which our master made his name,
      And none could ever chisel egg-and-dart
      More than a pace or two, and those two false,
      The darts strung loose, no pair of eggs the same.
      Though some lacked cunning, most lacked only care,
      And even when I made them watch my hands
      Shaping a path across the element,
      None of them saw the Knave of Darts himself.
      If any had, he might have seen a man
      At home within the shadow of a man,
      Content to turn out faultlessly his craft
      For children’s pay and incidental thanks.
      No wonder they looked elsewhere for their dreams.

      My own, of late, touch on the blessed Virgin,
      Mantled in pink, just as our master made her,
      The day he drew the rubble from her face
      And found her flushed with motherly despair,
      Compelled to carry what she might not keep.
      I pray that she will guide the master’s hand
      One final time, for one last worthy form,
      A miracle to warm his dying fame,
      A garment of which I might take the hem.

      This morning, though, no mysteries are revealed.
      Fleeing an endless luncheon with the count
      To play a prince among apprentices,
      Our master has declared, perhaps in jest,
      That egg and dart are meant to signify
      The figures of a woman and a man
      Begetting undistinguished generations
      One undistinguished coupling at a time.
      An older boy, restless to show his wit,
      Suggests that egg and dart are eye and tongue,
      Perceptive and appetitive in turn,
      Enshackled by their mutual disdain.
      Such games and riddles I have heard before.

      Now we will lose the working day to talk
      Of women’s tongues and men’s relentless eyes.
      Wine will be brought, a boy will play guitar.
      No one will think to ask me what I think.
      For forty years I’ve cut the egg, the dart.
      I’ve never known a woman or a man
      As I have them. Not my own eyes and tongue.
      I know what they are, I know what they’re not.
      If you should ask, I’d answer, they are stone.