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.
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.
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.
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.