Ron Smith

The Caravaggio Room
January 16, 2013 Smith Ron

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, Poet Laureate of Virginia 2014–2016, is the author of four books, including Its Ghostly Workshop, and The Humility of the Brutes, both from LSU PressIn 2020, his Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery appeared in a handsome new edition. His poems have appeared in The Nation, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, and most recently in Five Points, American Journal of Poetry, and Arts of War & Peace (Université Paris Diderot). He is currently Writer-in-Residence at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia.