From the other side of the room she calls to me. Iris, messenger of the gods. With his great fingers, Rodin has pried her open, flung her into flight. He has not anchored her to a face or given her eyes to discover me with, but I know how her expression bends into an oval mouth and her eyes are shut and deep. Her legs, hot texture of bronze, move out and up from the stone. From her center, the vulva frames her with two curved petals: we are from here.
Around me in the busy museum, women create steady rhythm on hardwood floors. Percussion extends half-toned voices as we comment on these mirrors of our wandering identities as people, as son, daughter, parent, as gardener and broker, healer and fixer, the healing and the fixed. The language is hard to use; it craves awe and strives to wear it authentically. “Look at the technique, George. The lines are so masculine, don’t you think?”
I’ve come here every weekend for the past two months, always intent on finding some new work that will replace the drug of Iris. I start on the lower levels, sometimes in the farthest gallery or the gardens outside. But like rain caught in a cool shaft of air, I fall upon this floor. I saturate her with my eyes as I stare into myself, looking for me, looking for her. Rodin has left his fingerprint on the meaty underside of her right foot. I could be etched in one of the ridges.
I brought Jennifer here last weekend. When we walked toward the sculpture of Iris, she grew curious. “It’s small, Neri. I had no idea from the way you talk. I could pick her up and carry her out in my arms.”
When we were close enough to breathe on her metallic skin, Jennifer grew steadily quiet. I watched her eyes move laterally, up the stiff ankle of the left leg, across the abdomen and out, blown as a kite on a short string, off the stretched right leg into dreams ferried by the gods.
“Neri, she’s so uncovered.” She looked at me and ran her hand across her forehead, streaking her tight skin with newsprint from the paper we shared at breakfast. “Why didn’t he make the rest?”
“The rest of what, Jen?”
“You know, the rest. Give her a full neck, a head, Neri. Why do they always stop there?”
She moved on to the next piece, the next painting, tapestry, woodcut, watercolor until we left and the museum closed behind us.
My mother named me for a saint few people have heard of. When I was twelve, preparing for confirmation, the Priest used to tell me stories about Saint Filippo Neri. He would sit with me in a cherry-wood pew and draw pictures of the sixteenth century in the worn cotton of his robe.
“Your mother named you absent-mindedly, Neri. When Filippo walked as a man on the earth, women, like your mother, knew with their hearts that the purest direction in life was that of procreation. As God intended, Neri, as he designed the Earth to yield.”
While Father Anthony talked, I focused on his hands. They were large and flat, cupping the air like thick liquid as he described the sacrificed flesh of saints and women. His own skin was rough, dark olive randomly stained with red, mysterious yellow, and white, crusty plaster. At the end of his fingers, the nails were chipped ragged with a constant dark line shadowing what protruded from the tip. We were taught to admire his art. The nuns told us that his vision unfolding in sculpture and canvas was pure, evidence of communion with God’s essence.
“But Neri,” he would sigh and rub his face, “things are changing for you now. When you are old enough to walk into that phase of life, you’ll find it expanding in a circle around you. You will be opening up away from the center, drawn out by practical issues unrelated to the purpose of the act itself.”
When Father Anthony died a few years later, the church began an inventory of his possessions. With a great deal of effort, they finally unlocked the shed he used to store his art. Inside, under large drapes and hand-made crates, they discovered dozens of pieces of women in sexually evocative poses. Primitive clay statues, rich oil paintings, wispy ink sketches, all of women openly daring God to unlimit the world. The few that were signed shared a common inscription: To Iris.
Jennifer didn’t understand why I winced the first time she asked me to pick up her prescription. “Neri, if we’re going to live together, you’ll have to participate in this. As long as I remember to take the damn pills, you can pick them up and pay for them.”
Now even that has become routine.
This morning she casually reminded me to stop at the drugstore on my way home. As I make the transition now from Rodin’s mythology to the sharp fluorescent aura of the pharmacy, I am awkwardly joined with Father Anthony. Like a song repeating, his hands move light breezes through my mind. The saints, made of muscle underneath their clothing, were scented with their own sweat.
When I get home, Jennifer is tired and we get into bed early. With the television humming and pillows propped up behind us, there’s no real excuse for conversation. She’s wearing a gray college t-shirt and a pair of my thick socks. Her hair falls easily into a sunset of brown and amber. Under the sheets, I move my hand across her left thigh. We stare forward and let the feelings stay in its own boundaries. Without looking at her face, I know the depth of her eyes, the curve of her mouth. I reach the humid area and rest carelessly in the jungle of that coarse hair. We are from here, I think. And the world holds its wounds open for a woman to wash.