Sitting For Caravaggio

 

Ground floor of the Palazzo Madama –

I walk into the blasphemous dark,

black as a Vatican bible. The air hangs

heavy with myrrh, hint of dead flesh.

 

He wants an assistente – a boy to prime

canvas, grind his earths and ochres.

The pay – two soldi less than my age,

dieci per una seduta. Then the Master

 

appears, brighter than The Crucifixion,

blinding rays of mezzogiorno sunlight

stabbing a straw-covered floor. He thrusts

towards me a set of predator’s feathers,

 

angels’ wings cadged off Gentileschi.

My heart flutters; just like the others

his eyes strip me before I can undress.

Shucked and pinioned, I edge onto a set

 

cluttered with props: crumpled bed-sheets,

bawdy musical scores, violin, plated armour,

a dead flower. I don’t feel sweet like Cupid.

Legs wide, an angel’s wing brushes my thigh –

 

I’m his Love Conquers All, unadorned.

My right arm aches from clutching arrows

without a quiver. I grin. The Master spits

grape pips as he paints. Although we never

 

touch, I feel his fingers flicker over me.

He spits another pip, his temper sweeter

than the flesh of a maturated fig; Bellissimo

Cecco, next time I make you a saint.