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’s book That Beauty in the Trees was published in 2023 by Louisiana State University Press. His The Humility of the Brutes, Its Ghostly Workshop, and Moon Road were also published by LSU. Smith’s poems have appeared in many periodicals, including The Nation, Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, Five Points, and Arts of War & Peace (Université Paris Diderot). He is currently Consultant in Poetry and Prose at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia, and Poetry Editor for Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature. In recent years he has partnered with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to present poems associated with Man Ray’s Paris years and its “The Horse in Ancient Greek Art” exhibit. From 2014 to 2016 Smith was the Poet Laureate of Virginia.