Six bright co-ordinates pick a shape out of the darkness:
the face, the ruff, the lace, the hand, the hilt, some braid.
Later you see the slope of cloaked shoulders, one dropped,
as your eyes conjure the whole man, El Greco's mournful caballero.
The hand is splayed across the chest. Two conjoined fingers.
A deformity, a secret sign for Jew or Jesuit, an act of will?
Does a damp webbing bind their inner lengths, a frill
of amphibian flesh like the one that fuses a mermaid's legs?
Either he is your hallucination or you are his. Involuntary,
your own hand practises the sign. The caballero looks the kind
who sleeps one hour out of twenty-four, eats sparsely,
shuns women, aches in the night for what he abstains from.
Note: the strange position of the man's fingers against his chest, the two middle ones held together, has been variously explained; one explanation is that the subject of the portrait was someone with Syndactyly, physically conjoined fingers.
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