After Robert Herrick
I think of tainted saints, unseemly Madonnas,
Bacchus hung over, artichokes in butter,
dirt-caked soles, two mop-headed angels
coupling, Jesus and Cecco baring all.
I paint in bone-black, bloody vermillion,
backdrops of ochre and black, umbers that burn,
throw in hasty halos, Gentileschi’s feathers,
water-snakes and corpses hauled from the Tiber.
I picture Paul being floored, John’s head severed,
Matthew tethered, Lazarus resolutely dead
and Goliath, beheaded, gasping for air –
deft self-portraits of violent despair.
Painted or unpainted, in every picture
I’m a spectator, the spectre who’s always there.
This is one in a series of poems about the painter Caravaggio
Julian Bishop is a former television journalist living in North London who is a member of several London stanza groups. A former runner-up in the Ginkgo Prize for Eco Poetry, he’s also been shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize and was longlisted in this year’s National Poetry Competition. He won the 2021 Poets And Players Competition judged by Sean Hewitt with his poem Sitting For Caravaggio.
He’s also had poems in The Morning Star, XR’s Rebel Talk, Riptide Journal, Finished Creatures Magazine and the first few issues of The Alchemy Spoon. He is one of four poets featured in a 2020 pamphlet called Poems For The Planet. Read more at https://www.julianbishoppoet.com.