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

A Morning Crow

This day we’re meant to sing love’s newest note —
to note Christ’s washing filthy toe and heel.

“Lord, I’m a lamb, don’t treat me like a goat.”
“If I don’t wash you — you, I’ll never heal.”
“Then wash my feet, my hands, my head, my all.”

“O children, I’ve but time to bathe your feet,
after this night, after silver and gall,
I’ll tell you all — now I’ve time for your feet.”

After each toe was washed by Heaven’s head,
our Lord returned to the table and sat
to speak of hardened heart and dripping bread,
to speak of Simon’s son — the Devil’s rat;
that solid Son-of-Jonah’s triple no,
betrayal, bleating sheep — a morning crow.

© rl busséll 2021 – All rights reserved.

Ford Maddox Brown, “Jesus Washing the Disciples’ Feet”
(Oil on Canvas, 45.9″ × 52.4″, 1852–6)

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

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

Postscript

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.


I have stayed away from posting for about a year — twenty-nineteen’s “haiku year” took a toll. I have not been idle though. As I hope this poem will attest. I pray this year will be your banner year and all good will be showered upon you and yours.

Chalk portrait of Caravaggio by Ottavio Leoni, circa 1621