Best of the Net 2013  

The Ocularist

One of the earliest
                             eyes was found
                                                           with the ancient
corpse of a woman
                              in Persia, hers
                                                           made of gold
to resemble
                              a small sun—
                                                           iris and sclera
chased rays—
                              clear testament
                                                           not to the eye,
but to the light
                              that had been
                                                           made go out.
The later ones
                              crafted of glass
                                                           I studied
and practiced
                              for fire-blown
                                                           beauty, learning
another fragility,
                                                           to the body's
heat, the way
                              glass shatters
                                                           inside the fleetest
fever. For
                              its give—
                                                           and forgiveness—
I worked then
                              in ivory-wax,
                                                           and after
perfecting the shape,
                              cloned with
                                                           paint an iris,
small blood
                              vessels from
                                                           filaments of red
silk, then sealed
                              the whole
                                                           beneath an acrylic
                              invisible. Mine
                                                           was always
the smaller
                              studio, the work
                                                           fine, lonely
as a jeweler's,
                              my needs
                                                           the same—a wind
a lamp, lighted
                              eye loupe. Half-
                                                           sculptor, half-
illustrator, I
                              thought for
                                                           a long time
I was crafting
                              something place-
                                                           saving at best,
an orbit-
                              warmed imposter,
                              narrative of loss—
                                                           flying glass
or knife,
                              a thumb's determined
                                                           gouge. But I
learned finally
                              to manipulate
                                                           the way light
played the sphere—
                              the pupil
                                                           seeming to dilate
from dusk or
not of form
                              but of function,
                                                           not of object
but of the seen-
                              self, enticing it not
                                                           to look away.
The patient's
                              eye took with it,
                                                           after all,
only periphery
                              and the perception
                                                           of depth,
asides the truest
                              beholding has
                                                           never required.
So I aligned
                              the gaze
                                                           for the whole-sighted
world, that
                              it might find
                                                           some small figment
of itself
                              contained there, already in
                                                           the brain—
I could make it
                              believe—the fact
                                                           of what was
not there of no
                              matter at all,
                                                           the final
measure of an eye's
                              worth, in fact,
                                                           its complete
                              and with it,
the opposite
                              eye that was
                                                           such belief.

- Claudia Emerson (from Blackbird)