“The Royal Society’s conversazione—skeleton of…

“The Royal Society’s conversazione—skeleton of the Pareiasaurus bainii, a huge fossil reptile, exhibited by professor H. G. Seeley,” from The Graphic, 16 May 1891

The artist dreams he is Ezekiel, taken by the Lord to a barren, rocky place, where, amid the stones and crags, lie the jumbles of a skeleton—massive, strewn bones of a beast long dead.

“Son of man,” says the Lord, “can these bones live?”

Says the artist, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.

Then the voice of the Lord speaks again, “Prophesy to these bones with your pen and ink, and say unto them, Dry bones, I will lay sinews upon you, and bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin and scales.”

The artist opens his sketchbook. The valley is silent. A cloud passes before the sun and shadows the earth so that it is difficult to see what is bone and what is rock. But the Lord’s whisper echoes, and, fired with a holy imagination, the artist draws. Lines become forms and the image of the resurrected beast takes shape.

At once, there is a creaking, a rustling. Pebbles roll. Stones shift. The bones lift from the dirt and come together, bone to bone. And, indeed, sinews and flesh come up upon them, stretching over the skeleton like layers of wet silk and red clay. Still, he draws. Drool glistens at the edge of the beast’s coarse mouth and drips onto the dust. The artist feels his hand rushing over the paper, hears the pen nib scratch its surface. And the skin clothes the flesh, lumpy and jagged with scutes and scales, the snout flecked with whiskers and snot. Yellow eyes roll in the once hollow sockets and stare.

When the drawing is finished, the artist lifts his pen, and the breath of the Lord pushes past him, tugs his fussy coattails and tips his hat, and flows into the beast like a silent river. A heartbeat drums within the monstrous frame; a pink tongue lolls out, licks those bumpy chops; the eyes spark; toes curl in the dust; and the beast exhales. Its hot breath crashes over the artist, a wave of humidity and boggy scent. 

At this, the artist awakens.