Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2011 v10n1

Portrait of a One-legged Hero

A short walk away, some Shiva in her tangle
might impress by being everywhere
with nowhere to put her hands. In the Temple
of Dendur, for example, amputated dynasties

float above the water of their last undoing,
and this is nothing new. The wind moves freely
in Nubia, just as my movement inexorably away
from the hero, even here, with many-legged

letters, testifies to the power of subtraction.
For Rilke, only the radiant torso. Saint-Gaudens
in the Boston Common so believable we argue
over one leg raised—I can almost feel breath,

smell horseness—and if it means the rider was a type
of hero. Though this, too, is a lie. The uses
we put legs to. In a Bordeaux or runway model,
long and slender. As for Greco-Roman wrestling

Rulon Gardner, America’s nine-toed wonder:
he keeps his frost-bitten tenth in a jar in the fridge.
At least that’s the story the TV tells. I say gently
later and won’t take it back, though gently is exactly

how some heroes lean on their emerald-studded canes.
I can almost hear the medals on their chests chatter
like teeth, witness to the last hobble before they numbed
for the painter. Last summer, such portraits loomed

above a breakfast table in a villa in the middle
of Chianti. Spritely boys in monkey suits offered
toast and coffee. As if I enjoyed it. We should all
be humiliated once a year. At least. And the cane?

Is it tradition or my spoiled life offering me the easy
appendage of otherness? What has this hero done
to deserve me, and I him? What does it mean to move
through the atriums of the Met, down each thigh veined

by taking away, gently, the marble around it?
Some Darwin in the islands the mind leads to:
Shackleton’s journal, jaundice of boat slowly, inexorably
sinking. Pelvic bones of hundreds of monks seen perpetually

in exodus on the ceiling of the Capuchin crypt in Rome.
Go there. If creation is ex nihilo, sculptors, runway models,
even Achilles, are photonegatives, defined by disappearances.
What remains are remains.  end