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The Caravaggio Room

“Yuck,” you heave in front of that sick boy
with the gray face. “Bacchus, my ass,” you say.
“Caravaggio’s,” I say. And so you smile,
grimly. And, larger, floating
in blacker, emptier spaces, the head

of Goliath, his adolescent killer delicately disgusted
by what we know, what they knew
who paid for it, is the artist’s own likeness.
Ah! here's the huge Madonna
dei Palafrenieri where the Virgin has her bare foot

on a serpent’s neck, leaning, looking,
demonstrating a mildly unpleasant task.
And below his slung and guiding spearpoint penis
is the child’s foot on her foot, taking
instruction, learning young,

the writhing snake already
calligraphy of defeat.
“Oh, look,” you say, “golden wires!”—such
thin halos round the women’s heads, the Virgin’s
and her mother’s, perfunctory, paid for,

we guess—but none, nothing remotely divine
to mark the mortally naked boy.
Along the farther wall St. Jerome, an old man
working, stylus in hand, eyes close to the page, and next
the Baptist’s unmuscled body,

languorous, the body
of a catamite, candid eyes
aimed right at you—I mean at Caravaggio.
This John’s positioned directly across the room
from the sickening boy.

And suddenly we see
between them, in the room’s cube of air,
that some curatorial wit has placed in our space
a frolicking imperial Satyr, intact except for
his token of membership

in the honest world of paganism.
Let’s get the hell out of here.
I need a Negroni
and a long, slow taste
of your salty flesh.

Ron Smith


Issue 19

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