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

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

In the Silence

In the silence, amid the incense and the light slide,
stone falls on stone; a grinding mill scratches and calls.
Thus it’s ever been, amid the silent beating heart, beside
the whispering nave, knave and brave, brave the squalls.
And the stones answer when the lambs lie dumb ‘n’ mute.
Thus it’s ever been, amid the windowed calls for right,
amid the cobbled walls, cobbled floor, and hobbled foot;
Thus it’s ever been, amid the storied skies held loft by light,
amid the storied limbs can be heard the silent whispers;
Thus it’s ever been, amid the once chiseled and shape’ed stone
amid the storied floors that hear half-prayers and muddied vespers;
Thus it’s ever been, amid lullaby, amid cradle, amid birthing groan,
amid the pounding silent foam, amid Euphrates’ flowing;
Thus it’s ever been, when men keep selves from knowing.

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved

poetry, sonnet

Laughter’s Flame

In the shade of a towering oak, in the wavering heat of day,
There came men of the same; they more light than flesh.
There to speak to Nation’s Father, a father to Affliction’s Say.
”Say’t, without mirth, “Ancient will give birth to new flesh.”
The wind blew hard as ancient wife cried out in mirth.
”Now that this flesh is withered, you send this tale, this
Story of new birth.” “To Laughter’s Flame you will give birth.
This time, a year hence, you will swell in your bliss.
And Nation’s Father will joy in Nation’s inheritance.”
The notion that the dead will give birth, is nothing new.
But the tale of Laughter’s birth and a mother’s impotence;
The tale of old father, with now two sons has nations hewn.
This shady towering tree witnessed Laughter’s flame
And saw the spark that give birth to our laughter’s Name.

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved.

Photo by Victor Zambrano on Unsplash

poetry, sonnet

Peace, Peace

“Jeremiah knew the story of dying nations,
Nations set for inglorious, ignominious demise
And herein lies our story, for we are set for cremations.
My city is about to die; it’ll no longer see the open skies.
And like the children of the tribe, we behold our Babylon.
Babylon comes with hands holding plumbs to measure.
They move with speed; distance measured in marathons.
Our Nebuchadnezzar is showing us his displeasure.
He’ll take no time to discern wheat from chaff;
The weeping mother, the crying infant, the purest maiden,
And those with hardened hand will have no cause to laugh.
I pray that the earth beneath our feet we’ll not abandon,
That the sky will recall our place in the eternal sun,
That we’ll not be forgotten by the Eternal One.”

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved

poetry, sonnet

My Shibboleth

Hang it all, let it melt into my season.
Season it all with spice and let it rest.
This is not the summer to emblazon
crimson slashes across my quiet nest.
Now it’s time to rest, to take a breath,
purse my crimson lips and kiss my only.
I’ll make sure I make love my shibboleth.
For there will be time enough for lonely
days when my eye can see no lover,
when the light of summer fades and my
hardened bones feel nothing but harsh hiver.
I’ll take residence in the now, making sure
that I save not my joy and sorrow
for another time, another one, another morrow.

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved.