He’s the Paradox

This is the second day since I left Him.
I left Him crowned in royal poverty.
I left with a gift of mem’ry to hymn
until my throat was rich in charity.
What am I to do? I’ve seen God enfleshed,
seen the Divine suckle at the breast,
seen Living Water by mother refreshed,
seen God’s Word by a father’s breath caressed.
It seems time would’ve shuddered to a halt
when the Timeless One slept with ass and ox,
when the Bread of Life was sprinkled with salt,
when I bent to present His gold-filled box.
He’s the paradox: Prophet, Priest, and King;
the Word—fleshed, yet, I recall His babbling.

© rl busséll 2022 – All rights reserved.

Fra Angelico — The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1440 – 1460)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (Detail)
Leonardo DiVinci (circa 1480), The Adoration of the Magi (unfinished)
Oil and tempera on panel
Dimensions Height: 243 cm (95.6 in); Width: 246 cm (96.8 in)
bible, maundy-thursday, poems, poetry, sonnet

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 will 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)

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.

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
haiku, haiku-year, poems, poetry, sonnet

“Cupid laid by”

Love’s a pool so strong
that it cures men’s maladies.
My cure’s in her eyes. 1

© rl busséll 2019 – All rights reserved

  1. Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:— Sonnet CLIII – William Shakespeare
Sonnet CLIII

Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:
A maid of Dian's this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;
Which borrow'd from this holy fire of Love
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress' eye Love's brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distemper'd guest,
But found no cure: the bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire--my mistress' eyes.
haiku, haiku-year, poems, poetry, sonnet

”Those lips”

Love formed lips did hate
but straight ‘twas taught to greet the
dawn with Love’s own song.

© rl busséll 2019 – All rights reserved

Sonnet CXLV

Those lips that Love's own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said 'I hate'
To me that languish'd for her sake;
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
'I hate' she alter'd with an end,
That follow'd it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away;
'I hate' from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying 'not you.'
Those lips that Love's own hand did make — Sonnet CXLV - William Shakespeare