“Love in Marble” by Jenne Knight

30 March 2018 on Blog, Nonfiction   Tags: ,

Ten years ago, my mother and I flew to Italy on an open-jaw, two-week tour, where we snaked through the country from Milan to Rome. Because we lived in different cities, I met my mother at the gate in Seattle after hugging a goodbye to my boyfriend, a man who had broken up with me twice. I was relieved that they wouldn’t meet.

When my mother and I were planning our visit, I hadn’t asked to visit Venice, thinking it was overhyped, overrated. But after landing in Milan, we immediately boarded a train to Venice, a concession I’d made so we could see a few Davids in Florence and Rome. As we stepped off the vaporetto near Piazza San Marco, I was immediately enamored by the cruel, sinking beauty. Everywhere I looked, it seemed everyone held hands or linked arms. I thought, when in Venice, and grabbed my mother’s arm on our evening passeggiata over cobblestone streets. Because our family is from northern Europe, we inherited cultural customs that, even after several generations in the States, limit affection. I would come to understand that this tendency had been a growing problem for my boyfriend. I didn't usually link my arm in his on our own passeggiate in Seattle, but in Italy, I welcomed the freedom from real life, from the growing realization that my relationship at home was sinking like a lost city.

I reminded myself that Venice is an island, where I couldn’t get us too lost. As long as I didn’t fall into a canal or catch a ride from a gondolier, I could lead us back to our hotel or the Campanile or the Rialto. At a corner market, in broken Italian, I bought a calling card and scheduled time in my late evening to call home. It was awkward talking to my boyfriend, who was at work, with my mother in the room. She got the hint and went to find ice, but I still felt censored by our recent breakup. My check-in was short, enough to hint that I loved him without saying the words. He’d said them to me only weeks before, as we got back together, but I had pushed it—and him—away. Now, I was too guarded to admit anything other than a vague wish you were here. I cried at the train station as we left Venice for Pesaro, where our family friends would welcome us with double kisses and open arms.

My mother and I found our first David unintentionally, in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, after bumbling around with college students on the local bus. This was only a replica of Michelangelo’s David, stained by time and local pigeons, so I lingered in front of Cellini’s nearby Perseus, with the outstretched, decapitated head of Medusa. Their bodies formed a seamless continuity of oxidized bronze, greened from centuries of neglect.

Our subsequent encounters with Davids were planned, at the Bargello—after we tasted Florentine gelato—the Accademia, and the Borghese. My mother was surprised by Donatello’s and Verrocchio’s teenage Davids in bronze, just young wisps of a man, that seemed so far from Michelangelo’s masterpiece. We lingered in the Accademia, studying the size of this David’s hands, the beauty in the slopes and curves of his body. This David, according to just about everyone, embodies ancient perfection, resting at the moment between thought and action. To me, he still seemed locked in marble. Before we left, I circled Michelangelo’s Prisoners and thought of my boyfriend, working at his desk.

In Rome’s Borghese, we met Bernini’s David, whose sinewy power seemed just beneath the marble’s slick skin. I wanted to run my hand along his taut muscles to ensure he wasn’t flesh. As we passed Apollo and Daphne, I let a tear fall and wiped it away only when I knew my mother wouldn’t see. This wasn’t the time to invite her to ask about the breakups, the inability to root myself to someone else. That time would never come, and for years we pretended that the boyfriend hadn’t existed, that my depression and cross-country moves weren’t a product of the final breakup.

Afterward, my mother and I walked arm-in-arm through the Borghese gardens, rating our favorite Davids. I expected she would say the Michelangelo, but it was the Bernini she liked best. She said he’d captured the man, so lifelike, so real, in the moment just before his fate was sealed. I agreed. He was the one I had come to see, the man forever in the windup before the kill.


Jenne Knight writes essays and poetry. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Common, Rust + Moth, and Bodega. Her poem “Elegy for my Father” was nominated for Best of the Net 2016. For more information, please visit www.jenneknight.com.

"Roman Piazza with Fountain”, Watercolor, 22” X 30”. Grant Drumheller is a painter and professor of art at the University of New Hampshire. Drumheller has been the recipient of a Fulbright-Hays Grant in Painting to Italy. He has also been the recipient of a Blanche Colman Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Artist’s Fellowship, a New England Foundation for the Arts Grant and a grant from the Pollock- Krasner Foundation. Most recently, he was a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome in 2009. Drumheller has had numerous exhibitions, including one person shows at the Galleria Inquadratura (Florence, Italy), the Currier Museum of Art (Manchester, NH) the Creiger-Dane Gallery (Boston, MA), the Grace Institute (New York, NY), The Prince Street Gallery (New York, NY), Boston University and Amherst College. In September, 2015 he was the subject of a 40-painting review at Gordon College (Wenham, MA). In 2016-2017, Drumheller exhibited at the Prince Street Gallery, New York, NY that travelled to the Nesto Gallery, Milton Academy (Milton, MA). His work is represented by Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, N.C., the Greenhut Galleries, Portland, M.E., the George Marshall Store Gallery, York Harbor, M.E., and the Prince Street Gallery, New York, N.Y. He lives in New Castle, New Hampshire with his wife, Karina. Please refer to his website for further information: www.grantdrumheller.com.

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