PICTORIAL REPRESENTATIONS OF PHYSICIAN- SAINTS COSMAS AND DAMIAN AND THE MYTH OF THE MIRACLE TRANSPLANT — BLACK DONOR, WHITE RECIPIENT — DATE BACK TO THE MID-FOURTEENTH CENTURY, APPEARING MUCH LATER THAN WRITTEN VERSIONS OF THE STORY. 1 Always, the dark body hewn asunder; always one man is healed, his sick limb replaced, placed in another man’s grave: the white leg buried beside the corpse or attached as if it were always there. If not for the dark appendage you might miss the story beneath this story— what remains each time the myth changes: how, in one version, the doctors harvest the leg from a man, four days dead, in his tomb at the church of a martyr, or—in another—desecrate a body fresh in the graveyard at Saint Peter in Chains: There was buried just today an Ethiopian. Even now, it stays with us: when we mean to uncover the truth, we dig, say unearth. 2 Emblematic in paint. a signifier of the body’s lacuna, the black leg is at once a grafted narrative, a redacted line of text, and in this scene a dark stocking pulled above the knee. Here the patient sleeping, his head at rest in his hand. Beatific, he looks as if he’ll wake from a dream. On the floor beside the bed, a dead Moor —hands crossed at the groin, the swapped limb white and rotting, fused in place. And in the corner, a question: poised as if to speak the syntax of sloughing, a snake’s curved form. It emerges from the mouth of a boy like a tongue—slippery and rooted in the body as knowledge. For centuries this is how the myth repeats: the miracle—in words or wood or paint—is a record of thought. 3 See how the story changes: in one painting the Ethiop is merely a body, featureless in a coffin, so black he has no face. In another, the patient— at the top of the frame—seems to writhe in pain, the black leg grafted to his thigh. Below him a mirror of suffering: the blackamoor— his body a fragment—arched across the doctor’s lap as if dying from his wound. If not immanence, the soul’s bright anchor, blood passed from one to the other, what knowledge haunts each body— what history, what phantom ache? One man always low, in a grave or on the ground, the other up high, closer to heaven; one man always diseased, the other a body in service, plundered. 4 Both men are alive in Villoldo’s carving. In twinned relief, they hold the same posture, the same pained face, each man reaching to touch his left leg. The black man, on the floor, holds his stump. Above him, the doctor restrains the patient’s arm as if to prevent him touching the dark amendment of flesh. How not to see it— the men bound one to the other, symbiotic— one man rendered expendable, the other worthy of this sacrifice? In version after version, even when the Ethiopian isn’t there, the leg is a stand-in, a black modifier against the white body, a piece cut off—as in the origin of the word comma: caesura in a story that’s still being written.