February 2010

A BELATED VALENTINE

I had a twelve-year old boy tell me about the human eye the other night. He began by informing me that he had dissected the eye of a sheep and then went on to explain how light was refracted, how an image was received upside down and how our brain turned it right side up. He named the parts of the eye—cornea, retina, sclera, aqueous humor, vitreous humor—and each word seemed exotic and beautiful to me, the name of an undiscovered planet or a dispossessed king.

This conversation took place in a lighted living room on a February night. I could see the street outside, the snow piled up high on either side of it. It was Valentine’s Eve. I thought about Saint Valentine, imprisoned in some dark cell, how he fell in love with the daughter of one of the men who guarded him—light in the darkness.

The boy talked about the eye and what it could do; and outside on the street, everything was hushed, still. Even though I couldn’t see them, I knew that the stars were up there, above us, sending their old light down. “Perhaps we are above,” Rilke wrote, “woven into the skies of other beings/who gaze toward us at evening. Perhaps their/poets praise us.”

“What did the sheep’s eye feel like?” I asked the boy.

“It was gross,” he said. And then in a quiet voice, “It was wonderful. It was like holding a world.”

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