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

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

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.

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

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

Letter Q from fifteenth century French woodcut from and edition of Vergil printed by Lambillion

Q Haiku

Quixotic questing
queen— quaking, quivering —
quaffed — quad-Quentão.

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved.


Alphabet Haiku Challenge

  • Every word in the haiku must begin with the same letter
  • When written in English, it generally follows the syllabic pattern 5-7-5
  • Haiku/Senryu Poetry – Here is an in-depth description of Haiku/Senryu Poem (also called human haiku) is an unrhymed Japanese verse consisting of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables (5, 7, 5) or 17 syllables in all. Senryu is usually written in the present tense and only references to some aspect of human nature or emotions. They possess no references to the natural world and thus stand out from nature/seasonal haiku.

Letter Q from fifteenth century French woodcut from and edition of Vergil printed by Lambillion

The Letter Q fifteenth century French woodcut from an edition of Vergil printed by Lambillion

Sonnet Two

Clouds carry whisper colored memories
And soft lightnings — flashes like sentinels
Against a darkened pane, thick memories —
Impasto hammered pains sharp with angles.
These clouds, these ever turbulent mists,
Listen not to small voice or Thor’s hammer,
They are blind to mouse, blind to pugilist,
Blind to the pleas of the eyeless seer.
For these mists, these airy kaleidoscopes
Of reflected light, live outside hist’ry.
They dwell there e’er in the eternal tropes.
For these mists led my fathers from the sea.
These solid mists, these son-born billows,
Billow an’ dance, lifting all from sorrows.

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved

When All Could Be Gold

Crackers, crumbs, and milk in little carton drums.
I held mother’s hand and smelled the day so grand:
Chalk coming off the board in clouds,
Crayons held in new-formed hands, and
Blocks of wood all ready to stand.

All our cubbies lay right by the door,
Where we placed all that we brought,
all that our mothers and fathers thought
would make us what we would become;
all that would set our clay to marble-grand.

The room smelled of hope and bright eastern sun.
The room smelled of wood and bright colored fun.
The room smelled of promise and crisp new clothes.
The room smelled of smiles and pink-colored bows.

Kindergarten socks,
kindergarten hands,
kindergarten lambs
play in kindergarten bands.

These were the days when all could be gold,
when none of our fools showed their true face,
when none of our promise was broken and spilled,
and none of our parents died under their wheels,
when all could be fixed by
crackers, milk and small blanket sips,
when all of our curls were just so,
and no one laughed at our club-footed toe.

We were at the edge of all that could be,
Tree-top houses were in our future, you see.
Jack was sitting on white-painted seat,
Camelot was forming ‘round high-city stage,
and space’s frontier was laid at our feet.

Before bullet sang into President’s pate,
before Junior bled in Egypt’s old town,
before Dick hid the heist from the gate.

We sat in a circle, as we were taught,
as a dark-headed girl edged to the door,
her legs cradled in steel,
her hand cradled in flesh,
her smile cradled in bashfulness.

Kindergarten socks,
kindergarten hands,
kindergarten lambs
played in kindergarten bands.

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved.

G Senryu

gangly gangs grandly
gait gallop grab gain —
gargantuan 1 glass

© rl busséll 2018 – All rights reserved.


This senryu envisions the seconds before the breaking of jewish owned storefront glass on November 9-10, 1938 in Germany and parts of Austria.

“The November Pogrom, known alternatively as ‘Kristallnacht 2,’ also led to the desecration of over 1,200 synagogues and looting of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes.
Following the assassination of a junior diplomat in Paris by a young Polish Jew, the Nazi Party seized the opportunity to incite mass anti-Jewish violence, claiming it was a spontaneous popular ‘retaliation’ against the ‘enemy within’. As a result approximately 90 people were killed and over 25,000 Jewish men were arrested and deported to Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, leading to the deaths of hundreds more in the camps.”3

May we never forget. May God show us more mercy than deserved.

For more information please visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum or The Wiener Library.


Alphabet Haiku Challenge

  • Every word in the haiku must begin with the same letter
  • When written in English, it generally follows the syllabic pattern 5-7-5
  • Haiku/Senryu Poetry – Here is an in-depth description of Haiku/Senryu Poem (also called human haiku) is an unrhymed Japanese verse consisting of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables (5, 7, 5) or 17 syllables in all. Senryu is usually written in the present tense and only references to some aspect of human nature or emotions. They possess no references to the natural world and thus stand out from nature/seasonal haiku.
  1. from Gargantua the name of a giant king in François Rabelais’s 16th-century satiric novel “The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel” ↩︎
  2. The Night of the Broken Glass ↩︎
  3. http://wienerlibrarycollections.co.uk/novemberpogrom/home ↩︎