haiku, poetry, saiku, sonnet

M. Caravaggio

Painter. Profligate.
Michelangelo, the fool. —
Cardsharps in Kahn’s hall.

Was there a time when demons conquered, stayed;
when Anthony’s tormentors shied away?
Why roam through Rome your bravado displayed;
why take your eye from your vision to stray?
Your meanest tableaus set my mind aflame;
Your work has worked itself into myself;
Your brush became my only brush with fame.
Uffizi’s Medusa’s upon my shelf.
Blesséd Matthew, gripped by passion and flame,
is taught by an angel’s breathless whisper.
Then there is your telling of our night’s shame
when, in the dark, Light was framed with silver.
Do you still lie amid the labyrinthine
streets of your Caesars’ stony concubine?

The echoing step
Moves us through history’s halls —
Saint Matthew’s burning.

My name still flies amid cent’ries’ darkness
and like an ever circling bird, rises.
My demons still roam my Rome in darkness
looking for young flesh and tender prizes;
Time’s elusive progress is circling ’round.
Night required I prick with sharpened sword
and sharpened tongue my enemies to hound;
they were circling ‘round my girls to hoard
their beauty and so keep my fame at bay.
Have you seen my Fillide? Does she still live
within Peter’s shadowy cabaret?
I need to know if our flame will outlive
my canvas, my sword, my haughty bluster.
Do her lips still call men to her chamber?

Tiber flows swiftly.
A starving tern yearns for food —
Pleasures at coin’s cost!

Fillide did what she had to do to live
and at the dawn of her womanhood, she
plied her flesh and soul to live; the attractive
are often forced, in poverty, to flee
morality, and thus all the devils win.
Fillide did die so many years ago
that time has almost forgotten her sin.
It must be pain entire to hit so low.
I’m sure your Fillide’s flame is still burning;
for her will did will herself in a frame.
She died remembering you without spurning.
She left us while petitioning our Dame.
I pray Mary heard you at your last breath
that all your darkness did not mark your death.

Mortar frames her bed.
We all seem to hold our breath —
The nightingale sings.

I can’t recall the cutlass’ cut ’n’ flash.
My flesh was torn too soon to notice much.
I recall the slow gasp, the bloody slash,
the eyes so filled with knowing. And no touch
can bring my blood to flowing. And no word
can now make sinew move my dusty bones.
All was darkness, there was a footfall heard,
(the mute sound of leather on hardened stones)
and then a challenge I could ne’er refuse.
My rage ’twas like on Malta’s rock. I burned.
I flared. “I’ll not have you my name ill-use.
I am Caravaggio! You’re ill-learned.
Honor you’ll show me or you’ll die tonight”,
then came the end to me who once was knight.

Gilding frames his head.
Now we speak of light and dark —
Salomé dances.

© rl busséll 2021 – All rights reserved

The Taking of Christ by M. Caravaggio (oil on canvas, detail) c. 1602
“The Taking of Christ” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) (oil on canvas, detail) c. 1602


M. Caravaggio is, in part, a response to my reading Andrew Graham-Dixon’s wonderful biography, “Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane

Since childhood, I’ve had a powerful reaction to any image created by Caravaggio and I wanted to express my deep love for his work and my heartache at his untimely passing. When childhood heroes are hoisted on their own petard, some part of the edifice of childhood crumbles and this poem is a reaction to his falling façade.

M. Caravaggio is told, in what Michael O’Siadhail (Pronounced mee-hawl o’sheel) calls a “saiku” in his brilliant work The Five Quintets.” The haiku before and after each sonnet act as a kind of time machine or a means to comment on what is to follow or what has just past.

M. Caravaggio contains four sonnets: in the first and third I ask some questions and in the second and fourth Caravaggio replies.

M. Caravaggio may become the first of a series of biographical poems of artists — a kind of retelling of Giorgio Vasari’s “The Lives of the Artists” in poetic form.

Poetic license was taken in the manner of Caravaggio’s death. No one truly knows how he met his end.


Chalk portrait of Caravaggio by Ottavio Leoni, circa 1621
poetry, sonnet


The heart of the hart pines for river’s flow.
My heart knows not how to appease its thirst.
Forest glen is home enough for dappled doe.
My high towers re-call shrill Babel’s verse.
Still, I set my brick atop its brothers.
Still, I call my others to make amends.
Still, I forget to forgive my neighbors.
Still, I forge high towers as if they’re ends.
I’m deaf to the Dumb Ox’s lofty verse,
deaf to whatever mighty David writ.
Their tongues give birth to leaden curse or worse.
There’s no time to re-make all that’s unfit —
Time’s a thief who takes and never gives.
My sole hope is the One who ever lives.

© rl busséll 2023 – All rights reserved

United States, War Department. Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891 (2 vols.).
history, poems, poetry

Morning’s Maul

Some nights…

Naomi Shihab Nye,“Hello”

Some mornings shy at the dawn,
some claw the night to death.
We slid into Friday
like a Sunday afternoon.

But soon it baked
our clay in blood.

Mr. Jones scattered
all the birds
with his caw,

while the dust danced
down sunlit slides
and the morning
the dawn.

© rl busséll 2021 – All rights reserved.


July 3, 1863 “The town of Gettysburg looked as if some universal moving day had been interrupted by catastrophe.” But there was only one documented civilian death during the battle: Ginnie Wade (also widely known as Jennie), 20 years old, was hit by a stray bullet that passed through her kitchen in town while she was making bread.

Bruce Catton

July 1-3, 1863, one-hundred and fifty-eight years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg began and resulted in the largest casualties of the American Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg resulted in eight-thousand men killed in combat; these bodies, baking in the heat of summer, needed to be buried quickly. Over three-thousand horse carcasses were burned in a series of piles south of town; townsfolk became violently ill from the stench. Meanwhile, the town of Gettysburg, with its population of just two-thousand, found itself tasked with taking care of fourteen-thousand wounded Union troops and an additional eight-thousand Confederate prisoners.

According to lore, the Union soldier to fire the first shot of the battle of Gettysburg was Lt. Marcellus Jones.

Civil War era soldiers – photographer unknown circa 1865
L. Prang & Co. lithograph of the painting "Hancock at Gettysburg" by Thure de Thulstrup, showing Pickett's Charge. Restoration by Adam Cuerden.
L. Prang & Co. lithograph of the painting “Hancock at Gettysburg” by Thure de Thulstrup, showing Pickett’s Charge. Restoration by Adam Cuerden.
Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) 1831 woodcut
haiku, poetry

The Great Wave

So many eyes have seen this sea, they’re blind.

one of thirty-six
fishermen brave the high sea —
mighty fuji’s seen

meditate on where
oh, place the kento1 with care —
every part is spare

the sea’s our lover
her lovers brave her fury  —
lapis lazuli 2

my love’s a dragon 
Edo3 sees the fickle sea — 
push the brush away

So many eyes have seen this sea, they're blind.

@ rlbusséll 2021 - All rights reserved.
Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) 1831 woodcut

Panorama of Edo from Atagoyama by Felice Beato (1865 or 1866)
Panorama of Edo from Atagoyama by Felice Beato (1865 or 1866)

  1. The Japanese printing “registration” system. Registration is a method printers use to guarantee that each print in a series is aligned the same way.
  2. a bright blue metamorphic rock consisting largely of lazurite,
    a bright blue pigment formerly made by crushing, being the original ultramarine.
  3. Edo = Tokyo

Alabaster Arms

Painting: M. Caravaggio, 1601. Oil on canvas 91 inches x 69 inches. Located in the Saint Maria del Popolo Church, Rome. (Detail)

Michael’s chiseled hands have 1
not formed me as Adonis
and yet Medusa’s writhing’s 2
have made me as cold as stone.

Alabaster arms,
alabaster lips,
a cold and lifeless form;
Pygmalion’s infant 3
breath lies ever stillborn.

Yet, I sculpt my life for all to see.
Display it, set it in museum-free.
Wait for all to come critique
my jaundiced eye, my hobbled knee,
and pray they not nail me to a tree.

But if they do,
I pray they see fit
to rest me by my top.4
Then with Peter, I’ll
cringe at our thrice told tale 5
and wrest not glory
from The Ancient Story.

Let me not efface the face that sculpted I.

© rl busséll 2021 – All rights reserved.

  1. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni or more commonly known by his first name Michelangelo.
  2. In Greek mythology, Medusa was a monster, a Gorgon, generally described as a winged human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazers upon her face would turn to stone.
  3. Like many do with Frankenstein and his monster, I’ve conflated Pygmalion with his creation. : )
  4. Church tradition has it that Saint Peter was crucified upside-down. Origen says: “Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer”.
  5. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. — Matthew 26:75
poems, poetry

Widow’s Walk

I have seen a widow’s walk
where seven gables point the sky,
and I have stared at chalk
hoping to draw the perfect I.

But why?
Why set my feet where Hawthorne trod?
Why practice to marry eye to hand?
Why collect all those marks
set to paper, board or ageless cloth?
Why wonder at the ephemeral moth?

© rl busséll 2021 – All rights reserved.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Galleries Galore

His hand cradled hers;
Hers’ swallowed in his.
Her delicate fingers found safety.
His rough calluses found purpose.

No agenda.
No timetable.
No watch.
No phone.
Only them alone.
Alone, together among the masses.

Happiness sat upon his shoulders.
Wonder captured her eye and his.
’Twas the wonder of passing wonder on to his,
’twas the wonder of two and generations.

This is their time to stare.
This is their time to see.
This is their time to be.

And all the sounds of busy,
they had no ill effects.

Monet and Modigliani are
cradled under arcs of light —
softly it’s spilled round.
Muted foot-falls and hushed breaths
were all that they could sound.

Her neck was stretched
in Modigliani style
to see what could be seen;
It was if all that “The Greek”
could teach was, in her, made flesh.

Claude’s colors were splashed
on canvas large
in haphazard order,
that caused Beauty to bend
her haughty eyes to drink.

This is their time to stare.
This is their time to see.
This is their time to be.

Mr. Well’s machine is seen in
these vaulted halls of frames.
Each brushstroke takes us back,
and the dust of centuries laid on linen fair
can be seen by anyone who takes the time to stare.

© rl busséll 2019 – All rights reserved.

poems, poetry

Trees as barques

Is it a wonder that no one dance
can capture the forest prance?

Slender barques move
to their journey’s end.

Forest rood, slender forest stood
as early light’s lithe fingers
brush against a young pinewood.

Beach, oak and sycamore lift their tongues
praising Father, Son and the Breathing One,
pushing leaves across the verdant earth.

All the thorns of Adam’s birth
lie beneath skin, branch and earth.

Leaves, open mouthed, catch water
from sacred skies;
heavy clouds like
angels pouring bread.

© rl busséll 2019 – All rights reserved.


Our Aleph-Bets

To the sounds of our twenty-six;
to the sounds of our aleph-bets,
we’re sounding our lives
‘round our sounds.

And all our soundings
press us into what we are.

So I give thanks to Wycliffe, Webster, and Will
for still I hear them sounding their depths.
I am deeper because they willed words,
words that are pressed into my every cell,
words that speak to my soul, words that call,
words that stall the beating of my heart.

Start, if you recall
the first you heard of Juliet
and her dead Romeo;
and that bachelors may marry yet,
and of the night that our dead Hero
was from death recalled.

Start, if you recall
the beginning of beginnings,
when nothingness was formed
into rib and woman formed,
when the first light of dawn spilled
from Word and Wind,
when from fire, God did call.

Start, if you recall
finding Noah’s book
laid upon a table faire,
of spelling words like fare and hair,
of all the varied tongues that form
our England and America,
and of how large it seemed all.

And because of this I wonder still:
symbols making sounds,
sounds making meaning,
meaning making men.

© rl busséll 2019 – All rights reserved

The Blind Leading the Blind Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte [Public domain]

Press My Ear

I’ll listen to the rumbling sound.
Press ear to the hardened ground.
Shake my sleepy head.
Stir my rumpled bed.

There is no need to wonder why:
there’s that plank in my bleed’n eye,
blind man leading blind along the ditch,
the retching earth about to pitch,
the lukewarm bile in chests of gold,
and my refusal to grow old.

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved.

Image: Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Dutch painter and print maker during what has became known as Dutch and Flemish Renaissance)  (1568), The Blind Leading the Blind

Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte [Public domain]

The image was produced  before 1924 and is in the public domain in the U.S.


The Tonsured Sky

The tonsured sky let the sun, by breaks,
light up the earth, and then the birds
broke the blue with blackened beak;
Their wings pointed the sky, then blurred.

I’ll bring
to sing the skies.

© rl busséll 2019 – All rights reserved