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

3 July 1889 – a Wednesday

Bulwork — Saint-Rémy;
angel contra hopelessness —
frantic ink filed strokes 1

© rl busséll 2019 – All rights reserved

  1. or in some strange figure of an angel as in the painting you had the good fortune to see Letter 784

Background image: Blossoming Almond Tree by Vincent van Gogh, Oil on Canvas, Saint-Rémy, France: February, 1890, Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Galleries Galore

His hand cradled hers;
Hers are 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.

(detail- darkened) The Vision of Saint John - by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos) 87.5 × 76 inch Oil on canvas

Take a Walk

I take the silent step.
Keep my eyes up,
not looking to the broken ground.

I try to take a walk.
I try to keep from talk.
I try to still the clock.

You know the feeling.
You know that feeling,
when Picasso’s time 1
is spread wide and thick,
when the wind never seems
to go your way.

You try to catch your breath;
and it comes in fits and starts,
and it comes in flames and sparks,
and it comes in warring larks.

And then it fades.

You know the feeling.
You know that feeling,
when El Greco’s stretch, 2
seems real and right;
when proportions’ light
seems off, and not just by a mite,
and your limbs, they scream and bite.

They scream and bite,
and you’re stuck,
forever stuck on the bridge
with Munch, 3
and the screaming never stops.
You know that feeling.
You know the feeling.

© rl busséll 2018

The Vision of Saint John - by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos) 87.5 × 76 inch Oil on canvas

The Vision of Saint John – by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos) 87.5 × 76 inch oil on canvas (1608–1614 New York, Metropolitan Museum)

  1. Picasso’s “Blue Period” 1901-1904 http://www.artic.edu/collections/conservation/revealing-picasso-conservation-project/pablo-picasso-and-blue-period
  2. Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541-1614) “El Greco” known for his elongated figures he is believed to be a precursor to Expressionism and Cubism. http://www.elgreco.net
  3. Edvard Munch (1863-1944) Norwegian Expressionist his most famous painting is titled “The Scream” (1893) Upon his death he bequeathed all his works in his possession to the City of Olso. Munch Museum was built to house them in 1963.https://www.theartstory.org/artist-munch-edvard-artworks.htm

Honor

He had a particular gait — somewhere between Igor and Sasquatch; a shuffle that spoke of strength. He held his head high and with a toothy grin smiled his way into my life. I had to capture his stance. I had to picture his stand. How he held himself with honor and looked you straight in the eyes.
There are people that affect you, people that touch your life in untold ways, strangers that become friends, friends that become strangers. You never know who will change you. You never know the faces you’ll remember. What makes a person stick to you? What makes a person change the trajectory of your life? What butterfly’s wing will ripple your life? How many people have touched you? How many people have you touched? Honor does not lie in intelligence alone. Honor does not always sleep in the corridors of the powerful. There is honor in the small and quiet, there is honor in the ignored, weak, and forgotten. I am affected still by the shuffle-walk, haunted by hands held just so. So I honor him now by showing the world his face.

portrait 02 - detail © rl busséll 1982

portrait 02 – detail © rl busséll 1982 Oil on Canvas

portrait 02 - detail © rl busséll 1982

portrait 02 – detail © rl busséll 1982 Oil on Canvas

portrait 02 - detail © rl busséll 1982

portrait 02 – © rl busséll 1982 Oil on Canvas

#BeautyFadethNot

Dignity

Years ago I worked at a home for the mentally disabled. It was a gloomy-happy place, a kind of box that locked away all, so that the world would garner no joy from its residents. The building had all the characteristics that come with such institutions: flickering florescent lights, wide dark hallways, and a quiet foreboding paleness. Yet, I have good memories of the people and the place. Despite their dire circumstances, they were, for the most part, joyful. Joy could be seen on their faces, in their eyes and in their unpretentious laughter; there was no one to impress, there was no one ingratiate, they had the freedom to be themselves.

I will be forever touched by the men and women that could not take care of themselves; by a people who could never grow up. People are not less honorable because their minds and their bodies do not grow at the same rate. There is a dignity in the face of a child-old. There is hope in a simple faith. God is not bound by our circumstances.

This is a thirty-nine-year-old painting of one of my charges. Painted alla prima, a method that helps produce fast oil sketches, impressions of impressions. It is done in one sitting. It doesn’t have to be thought about too much, doesn’t have be over-planned. I love this painting.

He speaks to me even after all the passing years. I can still hear his soft stammering mumble, see his gentle eyes and feel his big fingers softly touching my shoulder. His smile filled his face. He was a good man.

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” — Mark 10:14-15

Portrait

Oil on Canvas © rl busséll 1982

© rl busséll Portrait Oil on canvas. (Detail)

© rl busséll – 1982 Portrait Oil on canvas. (Detail)