Anne Daly studied English at University College Dublin and subsequently studied for a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama. She lives and teaches in Drogheda, Co. Louth. She writes poetry and is currently working on her first collection.
The Sculptor’s Muse
When I dream, I am a young woman again. My hands unstiffen, fingers straighten and I step out of this grey, flaccid skin, leaving it strewn behind me upon the floor. I am back in his studio once more, awash with light, the sun-bright walls flaring through the dust addled air. He stands, his back to me, surrounded by the debris of our work, broken torsos, discarded limbs, two fingers gently resting on a bronze head. He strains forward, watching you as you pass the windows, your hat askew, carrying a basket of shattered flowers carelessly in the crook of your arm.
I have my tasks. I understand precision and form, so I finish the hands and feet. I can be found up ladders or crouched on my knees, my smock ruched and crinkled, pushed impatiently to one side. As a child, I wet the soil and modelled the living from the earth’s dust. Now my fingers smooth stone into skin, shape muscle and sinew, filing away imperfections. I listen to it whisper as it bleeds powder onto my hair. This business of crafting beauty is unedifying, indelicate.
I am proud of what I do but long for more. Sometimes I experiment, put more of myself into it or bring him one of my own designs, blushing and proud. He surveys it with a cool eye, appraising its faults with a sigh or a twitch of the mouth. “Ah my dear…you have too much movement about the lines… it blurs the eye…”. I nod, hungry for his knowledge. I am willing to learn.
Sometimes you model for him, standing for days contorted into different shapes, unwrapping yourself ribbon by ribbon, breath by breath. Every arc and hollow vibrates with grace. He would stare, as if devouring you, as if he could draw the life from your very bones and hold it static in his hands, moulding it to his will. Then he would go to work – smudged drawings, maquettes, the uncleanliness of clay.
At my station I watch him cleaving through stone with rasp and rawl – sandstone, alabaster or marble of course. I could watch him for hours, rough hewing then working on point, touching his materials with the tenderness of a mother. A body emerges from the block, fluid and arching towards him as if aching for him to place his hands upon it. If I was to ask him a question at such times, he would answer in the language of angles and curves. He is jealous of my interest, shielding where he can. But if I tilt my head slightly to the side, I see your face looking out from swathes of stone, eyes flashing, hair thrown back as if defying the strictures that the medium imposes.
Often you join us for tea. We sit at a work bench, roughly covered with an Indian cloth, clutching mugs and taking deep inhalations from coarsely papered cigarettes. He touches my shoulder, speaks to me with intensity about aesthetics, his work, our shared vision. His verbosity diminishes you. I become animated, something real and alive, cheeks redden, breath warms. For all the attention he gives me, he watches you still, noting the emotions that flit across your face. You lean back languidly as if disinterested and trace wisps of smoke with delicate fingertips. And I turn serpent, stung by some slight, make use of my sharp tongue enjoying the look of hurt that springs into your eyes. Oh how we luxuriated in your discomfort, refused to let you be, him gathering variations for his work, scientific and precise, me sousing the bitterness that flamed around my heart.
Then we descend into silence, minds turning to all that is to be done. There is always someone waiting, a commission to be completed, a payment to be fulfilled. You gather the mugs, elegantly curling the handles around your slim fingers and pad away softly, feet bare, hips swaying. As the door clatters shut, he puts an arm around my waist and kisses me full on the lips. His eyes, half closed are hungry and triumphant. To me, he tastes of ash. No matter, we return to work. Your perfume lingers in the air.
Ah, how these memories have reverberated through the years, animating the murkiness of my dim, sightless eyes. We three, threaded together in a fixed spot by time which has passed us by so thoughtlessly. The only vision I have left is that of my dreams, the dreams which illuminate the darkness behind my eyelids every night. And each dream always ends in the same way.
I stand alone in the shadows of the studio at dusk, the inky light flutters and weaves. I search for you amongst his statuettes. The intensity of the longing that I feel is so strong, so violent that sometimes I wake with an ache in my chest. But no matter how hard I look, all I can see are traces of you, darting in and out of the darkness. The flash of an arm, the turn of an ankle, your soft laugh echoing silkily against the indifferent cheeks of those figures of stone.
© 2019 Anne Daly