Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum


{Victorious Amor}



 studies from Caravaggio


[the odd-numbered poems first appeared in Plains Poetry Journal]









In the spring or early summer of 1610 Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga, soon to succeed to the dukedom of Mantua, arranged absolution for the 1606 murder of Tomassoni, so that Caravaggio could return to Rome.  For some reason, perhaps doubt that the pardon was absolute, he sailed to a southern Tuscan enclave under Spanish jurisdiction, rather than going overland or sailing to Civitavecchia, the port of Rome.  Upon landing, he was jailed, mistaken for another man, a knight fugitive from justice.  When he was released two days later, all his possessions had disappeared, and perhaps he had come down with malaria.  He set off along the beach below the Monte Argentario under the blazing summer sun.  By the time he reached Porto Ercole, he was sick and raving.  He survived a day or two but the fever consumed him, and on July 18, 1610, he died.


                                    ))))))))))))) ALFRED MOIR




i          VICTORIOUS AMOR          1601-02



This child who bathes fair firm flesh

In studio light dominates not simply Merisi,

Caravaggio, his maker, but here,

In 1986, fresh

As 39 decades past, is neither priss


Nor effete, but simply malest youth triumphant,

Even to the crease of buttocks shadowed at his groin,

The drape of his vulnerable sex

Against the voice

Of catamite's abundance, dimpled smile to loins.


We are caught in such ripe noise,

Crease of the belly, just above the navel,

Accentuation of shadow and the bright warm swell,

Fear in the thighs,

Down to the gentle strength of calf, the ankle's poise,


A chant of soil at press of floor,

And each of us, male enough, returns to the blond

Of this charming little punk,

This lilting whore,

Who teases the armor from OUR thighs, wrests bonds.


Caravaggio gives you wings, mild wench, coquette,

So staged that even their stroke

Against the raised left limb

Would shadow why,

Impotent as the reason you have strained with pomp,


A strut of biceps, flaccid shaft, the hidden arm

That teases tease itself, as if we'd burn to know

What HIDDEN anatomy it fondles, slow,

From back to rump,

Pleasure of winking sodomite, more charm


Than our confused senses would admit, for here

Is your audience, such bearded knights as know no lust

For boys, but WILTING wenches—

And so it wrenches,

To be dry-mouthed at the sight of manhood trussed


And handed to your brazen lilt, your lure,

Your eyes, the light a hand that strokes your flesh,

That touches nipple, fingers, breast,

That fondles Sodom,

Lads who would offer self and yet attest


To more than all our manhood can contain,

All softness, frailty, even the gender

That would yield,

And gather hugeness toward two dimples in a smile,

Strut of a belly, buttock—Priapus, your style.



ii          TOWARD PORTO ERCOLE          1610



It's difficult enough—past bearing.

Bitched as a goiter

On a twelve year old.  And irony.

With time


They'll have their laughter.


For that business by the grace of good Gonzaga,

Leaking the pus at 34


From a mincing pimp no proper man'd endure,


Of Tomassoni—dear Lord, how gladly

I skewered him!


And fairly sure of Rome,

Tasting the nubile flesh of that great City,

That catamite

That rules the soul of Christ—


They pull me in for some lame knight

That ate his fill,

I'm sure,

Strip me of all but pride


And off on foot,

Weak as a fish and shuddering with fever—

Damned for his vision,



I'd say, blind as a  rat

And shaking,

Sad as some harlot's cast-off rag

And inching


Toward his maker—

Some soul to dazzle fops with all his welts

And indecision.

Had I hied my way direct.


The thousand in my purse,

I'd given for a taste

Of my Amor, for young Battista, Giovanni,

Twitch of the flesh,


A taste of all that's living.

These days

I copulate with worms—oh God, the living Christ,

That sun!



iii          YOUTH WITH A RAM          1602-03



The skin of this fair youth

Is welded to our sight.

We stroke his coy arch, the lifted knee, calves, feet,

Somehow in shadow,

Lured by a genius probing the eyes' night.


Here he fondles ram, or is it

Our nuzzling face,

Bearded men who would lust for maidens, the fresh

Sweet swell of flesh,

Coy limbs, tangle of cleft and maidenhead.


Here is a boy, a nuzzling ram, YOUR breasts,

Our dread.

The sex drapes vulnerable in the cleft of legs,

Slight but willing to arouse

To fit our purpose.


Light plays upon the lad's lips,

His outward glance,

Curls, a dance of light, a touch, hand or such

At the play of muscles

On the shoulders, there to the ribs,


Belly, navel, dark boyhood sex,

Even a trace of hair,

The stark light limning the poised right thigh,

Bruised or soiled knee,

Tense of muscle at the drawn tissue,


Hovering to shadow a groin's damp darkness,

Musk, shadow cutting

The press that wields that leg against coarse cloth.

We ask for his forgiveness

That would wield our loss.


They would have you, touch, stroke,

Melt, a feminine lilting

In the rage of rough manhood's jest, a punk's quest,

A girl-boy, impudent

And free.  They would have thee.



iv          TOWARD ERCOLE          1610



It seems I am caught in Giovanni, even that other,

Thrust of his

Puerile legs, the crease of buttocks gracing

Simply stare, bewilderment,


The lust it can't arouse

For all their aching

That would look

To see, and seeing, draw the green silk curtain


From its splendor,

Even the wings I rented giving thrust

To his pale form,

Libido, wink, a talent of the skin,


A trust, a provocation.

Even the nights

We slept with arms entwined, sated from the beast

We lived


Against all sanctioned notions,

Read in the canvas

And the oils,

For everyone who watched endured


Our coupling.

Such was the statement, bold as my youth,

And Giovanni's twitch,

That painting,


Amor, but mine alone, Merisi, Caravaggio,

A pederast and yet a knight,

Ram with a youth

And yet a scream,


Italy's greatest talent, widest genius,

Ruffian and punk

That opened up his limbs

For cardinals


And thieves to have his way

And opened up

The fairest boys of Rome, of Venice,

Tolentino, Genoa, Naples,


Malta, Syracuse, Messina, Palermo,

Even this bitch

Of Porto Ercole should I last this heat

And thirst


And live to taunt them.

Oh yes, they'd eye

My boys, sneaking off somewhere to masturbate

Or swallow


Their arousal.

All of them eating taunt in a young man's limbs,

Sucking the seed of

A master—


What sight is this?

I seem to see my past rear up a phallus

In the glint of sun.

I'll hurry on.


There is still not enough of Merisi.

Not yet, dear Lord,

Hold back.

You'll have me shrieking Jesus in the end.



v          THE LITTLE BACCHUS          1593-94



We see where he has been,

The dark sallow skin,

A thirst of flesh that drinks our eyes

And eats our greed,

This youth who has eaten and has eaten need.


Ivy adorns a head which has known

Dread, arousal,

Satiety, even in the grapes he's taken,

Ripe fruit upon the table,

Glistening, orange-pale and sable.


Where is the face but in an age

Too prematurely aged

From seed where seed was spent?  Eyes chant

That he would have us

For the asking, asking only his thighs' rant.


There is death in this boy's skin,

This aged faun

With whiskey breath, disease in each bright

Undulation of the muscled back,

The arm, from sin to harm.


Too young to be this ripe,

As if beneath taut

Flesh burns some small rage of odor, stink,

Decay—and yet he will have

His way.  We pause and yet we sink.


The charm is of the aged whore,

So young as to despise

Whore's coming, each increment of subtle death

That breathes

In each small pore its subtler breath.


Where have you gone, Merisi?

You stare so mortal

From this stasis in a timeless canvas, poised

At paint.  No grasping

Makes you less than grasping makes a saint.


As fruit rots even in a cleanly hand

We must demand

That youth is eaten.  The painter stares

From some unknown stink

Of his own making.  We sense the aching.


The white of his garment, even the

Purple sash, a burst

Of black in grapes upon the table, table itself

The ivy wreath—are caught less

By time's grip than this artist and his fable.


And yet we eat, tasting his musk,

His sweat, the dirt

Upon his chin.  Decay will triumph when decay

Is 21.  We yearn to taste

This flaunt, to lick the fragrance from his skin.


Bacchus is wilting into death,

A welt upon the flesh,

A canker sweet enough for appetite's wet whetting.

We tongue Merisi

In his youth even now.  There is no forgetting.



vi          TOWARD ERCOLE          1610



Is it Mario for whom I truly lust?

What lust CAN there be?

There is the brilliant sun,

And where is he?


God's sake, I cannot say

That I was even true, to lads, at least,

For least they were

And now—


It's sad.

That flirt!  We lay together more than all the rest,

I at 21

And he fifteen,


Mario Minniti, suckling in between,

Parting his legs,

Supine in turn

For him to part, that blazing irregular rut


In all our youth

And all that youth proclaimed,


Rot, a mess of worms, canker in the fruit


I now must suck

For having eaten.

This sand!

Like fire to my thin boots, the sky an old man's hand


That presses like some Eden,

Some winking hag

In fitful mood, exacting no mean vengeance,



Foul pit of retribution stuffed

With adders,

The blackest hole

To leak me in, to spew ejaculation, stench,


Canker of Merisi's teeth,

That ate

Until their jagged lot was vestige of some smile,

A wrack of grin—


Dear God, the smile's within!


I've quenched all metaphysics of the soul, incinerate

Of book and pen,


A scalpel of  the flesh,

A nod,

That they would take my Cupids in their grip,

Such sluts, Merisi's very spit,


Merisi, who will live

To plunge

The sword in Satan's ass and skewer God himself,

For boys, old Man, for boys!



vii          THE MUSICIANS          1595-96



We have in these four youths, two known,

Were we to trust a scholar—

Mario and Merisi,

The latter, such a tease, he burns from shadow,

Pouting past the broad expanse


Of someone left to chance, a boy who knows

The score,

Even the lute's hook

That angles past his book, as one young Cupid

Tunes it.  Mario, to our left,


Once lost his wings to the grand restorer,

And yet even the light

Against his chest has tactile lift, a burnished

Lick of the painter's tongue,

Who must have known him young,


As history records it.  One can imagine

All four in some large

Complicated tryst, as if that fact insists

From rosebud mouths,

The languid eyes, the painted brows,


Each watching inward copulations

Far more than our frustrations.

A welt of crimson

Weaves in lush undulation past the shoulder

Of the central figure,


Even the hand that cares to strum

That fortunate instrument,

That melody might

Issue forth in time, some sublime parody

Of all our inward achings,


A voice that catches at the throat

Of choice, for we are lost

At sights that quench no heart's fierce surge,

No twitch of loins,

No greed, no ache of love's mute seed.


If such as these are but illusion,

Then grant us, Lord,

Sweet love's confusion!  Grant harmony and fire,

Even a lyre's proximity to

This lush youth who eats the light


Only a master might have granted,

And soaks eternal in some

Vernal pitch of aching, soundless awe, the hush

Of such as we, willing

Somehow to join this ancient splendor.


And yet they cheat our indecision.

There is no end to such

Ambition.  There is no end, no total break, no halt,

To youth that hides in flecks of paint.

God must endure their patron saint.



viii          TOWARD ERCOLE          1610



Mario, Giovanni, Lugio, Merisi—

YOU'LL eat

To eat in turn. 

Only so many eat, and those will burn.


Flesh, flash, udder,

Milk of loins,

Buttocks firm as ripened grapes, and yet so young,

So young.


There in the sky I see their mouths, tongues,

Limbs entwined,

Suckling a leak of youth, a withheld drip

Till death shall grip,


Shuddering manhood, youth, to ravish


Groin, lip, blood-food rushing north

And fever . . . ?


Where are YOU going,

Sad Merisi?

Age and death?  There is more of you that works,

That works a breath.


This runt that earned some hundred scudis

For his best—

The worm that gives him rest!  A thousand thousand

Scudis—they'll act possessed.


Ah yes, a multiple of suck, eat soul and stink,

Boil for my Cupids,


For my lads, rasp whine and fever for a wink


Of my mild Christs,

My Baptists,

Coupling on their cross, a feast, a fornication.

Give pause, regret the loss,



Ah, let me simply into you, sweet young whoreson bitch

That clamps my brain

That hard I'm lost.


For what IS life?  A melt of limbs, a strut of semen?

The sword that gushes?


Half the demon.


Half the lover, child,

That's wrought from paint and steel,

A marriage bed,

Half loins and throat, half squeal.


Here in a blaze that creases

Skin and sense,

I spit at pomp, at greed, at power, circumstance.

The man you'd eat


Will eat your jowls.

Merisi will cease for maggots.

Another will tease

Your pontiffs, princes, cardinals, faggots.



ix          BOY BITTEN BY A LIZARD          1596-97



A single rose in a clear glass vase?

What truly bites his hand?

The rosebud mouth has tasted earthly pain

And now tastes death?

Insidious, the lizard's breath.


A blossom haunts his auburn hair,

Black leaves above

A rosebud ear, and then that queer stare

Into remote inward space,

Creases in the youthful face.


What can he see beyond Merisi

And his canvas?

The poised left hand is a fairy's vesture,

The hand that's bit

Feminine too in its gesture,


As if we feel what he has felt,

Poise of the shoulder

Pressed by light, that warm expanse of skin

Nudging against the cheek.

What inward fester does he seek?


It is a tale of a lizard, and yet a boy,

Both bitten by a thirst,

The water which reflects an open window,

Quenching a rose's need,

Boy's blood the lizard's greed.


Perhaps the light tells more than all else,

For there the hand poised,

Half in shadow,

Is flicked by light, a lizard's quick dark tongue,

For light and lizard take him young.


We yearn to kiss those burnished

Opulent lips,

To taste the years that brought him here to this

Encounter, luxuriance fondling

Some disease, a taste,


An ache, a lust, pollen of a rose,

Some fierce subtle dust,

That we would taste the whole that lizard sips,

A powdered whore

There where the fierce mind grips.



x          TOWARD ERCOLE          1610



The blessing is they failed

To see my bent,

In prurient delectation, rooted in some

Ancient rant,


A stink of all those other lovely scenes,

A Christos aching,

Apostles skewered to some rough-hewn crosses, pauses,

Profits, losses.


If even one had found me out,

That all this misery in my lonely life

Was not some aberration,

A young man's lust,


His carnal celebration,

The oils somehow untouched, even that brave virility

Wielding his flesh and sword

To pierce a saint,


Some gratification of the artist's instinct,

Adornment for mural,

Even to the tense of belly, thighs,

Rage in an old man's eyes . . . ?


But that WAS my manhood,

That would rake a rabbi, plough a priest, a queen,

Thumb snot at God, the Holy Ghost,

And everything between.


God yes!  My Baptists had THEIR twitch

For some nefarious

Appetite or such, that having sucked much would burn

To touch.


Lick me, God.

I shall not scorn your broad fierce tongue,

The hand of Christ,

His lips that probe the lads I've buggered young.


The man I've willed to be is not the man

I've been.

This art that's wrought from spew would lever

Magdalene toward sin.


For ass, if half those saints are half the measure,

Gonzaga sicked

Those stiffs on me—he'll have my prick

At my own leisure.


He'll have the truth of varnish, Christ,

Inching his way toward

Salivation, probing the cream of every boil I've



Merisi is food, a fool for worms,

Half madman,

Sycophant—I'll live among the peasants I have

Wrought, half Scripture, half its cant.








There are few figures, even in the tangle,

Matthew, the horrified boy,

And Merisi's pet,

The executioner, perhaps a taste of the latter

In the nearly nude right foreground,


Buttock and loin cloth, a voyeur

At this terrible coupling.

The man with headband and scant-cloth loins

Will have his awful pleasure,

Will impale an old man


With one brief thrust of the sword

Which cuts across his thigh

And knee,

A streak of shadow, slice against bright flesh,

The torso as powerful in its youth


As the man is old and feeble,

Matthew about to be martyred, not so much

By death

As by youth itself, even the dark nipples,

The fierce intention of the lips,


A boy-man wielding sexuality as much

As violence,

Strange pleasure in his awesome beauty that would stab,

Cut, skewer even a geriatric saint

To have his way,


The course of youth itself,

A fearful dangerous beauty.  We cannot look too


For power exudes from tensed poise of arm,

Shoulder, wrist,


A lassitude of light against that anger,

Assaulting saint and martyr,

Rending glance itself,

Who would lust for death on such sweet fearful terms,

Thirst of some plunging blade.



xii          TOWARD ERCOLE          1610      



I'd have the world itself, I'd have

The word, would time

And fate submit

To save me from this obscene arrogant death,


For here in heat its chill assault,

Like twenty inches

Up my spine,

Relieves me of death itself


And licks the rest.

Oh Christ, I am not afraid of your entrails,

Inner stench,

Merisi who has eaten Eden,


The very shriek of it,

Wind through hot juice, a clap of bowels.

Merisi has God,

And God has jowls.


You'll taste my loins.  You'll lick!

Even mild Christ

Betrays his memory.

I have given his pontiffs image, pagan Saul,


Some wilder sort than tepid tale—

Pale flesh,

Bold fire and itch,

Even his ladies, Virgin Mother, bitch.


In time I'll grant him Resurrection,

This sun that blinds

Merisi's sight,

This fierce sweet sand, grant hell and insurrection.



You toy, cruel Master, with a man who HUMBLED art,

The better of da Vinci,

As time itself will prove,


And some small tad of luck.

Little Botticelli,

One clear quick ruddy romp, one fierce faint suck!



That other Michael?

Who wielded God to such extent that even beggars


Merisi has swallowed what others resisted.


My boys, my saints, spread for the stroke

Of some strange mercy,


Ercole, where is that City?


A master stumbles here toward maggot,

Cunt-scent and semen,


They'll say some LILTING faggot swallowed dust,


Ate worms.

They'll have a laugh, and then the laugh will turn.

We are all of us human.

Sweet Christ, for punks you'd have us BURN and burn.



xiii          BACCHUS          1597



The kylix is brimming, red wine precarious

In the pudgy fingers,

As youth poises in tentative equilibrium,

Ready to spill, drain.

We are caught less by his youth than the artist's strain.


Merisi would paint whore, from wig to brows,

All counterfeit,

Even the feminine pose,

Rose lips, the sleepy eyes, toying the garment

At our insistence, who would lick the stance.


Is this boy the artist or his punk?

The shoulder, biceps,

Are far too manly for the pale of effeminate skin,

For the plump flushed hand

Which has touched us nights we strayed.  We begin 


At last to know the artist's bent,

Even the rotting fruit

Which mirrors this precarious youth, this eros,

Sensing the sweat in that musk flesh,

Sensing our doubt, kneeling to perceive, devout.


There is the circumstance of willing

To lay a bearded face

Against that white expanse of chest, even where

The skin tugs in to hair

Beneath the arm.  We will to circumvent his charm


And taste the guts that flesh has masked,

To burrow in the tangles

Of his inner convolutions, to mesh, to fuse

With all that flesh would use,

With the lazy decadent leaves upon the angles


Of his hair—and yet there is nothing there

Beyond our appetite

And fancy.  This boy, this slut, is chancy.

We eat and yet are eaten.

When sluts rule paradise we sense that God is cheating.


We sense that God wills an absence

In the dance of pity,

Pity's writhing.  This God has given us just a taste

That burns to touch.  We'd have

His swells, his cleft, toward no chance arriving.



xiv          TOWARD ERCOLE          1610



What would this slut dare to taste?

Murder?  Is that enough?

Incest, lechery,

Warm tug of a boy's spread loins, some old rough


Satyr, forcing me down on it,

Bending me to his own force,

And then, finished,

Wiping his sex of the thighs' spit?


There is hate in this—

That, tasting all,

I'm caught in the small scant musk-hole of a giggling

Demon, milking my brains,


Soul, semen.

Oh God, I ache to eat the whole of God, to drink

Jehovah, aching in his stink.

I ache to think


That aching will prove to be

The very end

Of me,

Here on hot sand, bowel twitch, granular venery,


Who made a mockery of ALL convention,

Only by some bitched intention,

To be butchered

For some anonymity, a knight,


For night's sake.

You watch me die, Glutton,

Feast on delirium,

Laugh your belly dry, you rank imperium!


Eat this!

They will abuse themselves some centuries hence,

Your holy men,

Feasting on my little sin,


My trifles, there upon a hook upon a wall,


In their chambers—

More riotously seduced by Giovanni


Than all your Papal dangers.


Whose bright fair loins would conquer knights

And priests with no small subtle wiles,


There are few of us who'd scorn

Your smiles.

A punk's wink and you'd exchange hers, nod, relax,

Sink to sleep with rankest strangers.



xv          SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST          1606



This youth would smile at more than Christ,

Certain of some other coming,

For pensively

He looks not simply inward for some mission,

But beyond time from Merisi's vision.


He is alive.  Eyes eat the torso, sultry,

Lax, a laze of flesh that creases

Past the navel.

The legs, the feet, seem all too broad.

Baptist himself seems somewhat odd.


Who would this brooding lad assay to save?

The staff is simply afterthought,

Less reticent

The loin's cloth, the strange ram, the log

Where even the sultry SKIN


Would seem to need cleansing, as if the foot

Were shod with dirt and grime,

No sublime

Sandal, winged slipper, but simply the road

He's walked, breaking some stranger news of God.


The message seems ambiguous, as if a master

Claimed him for some other vision,

Not Salomé's derision

Or Herod's indecision, rather the plaything

Of a king, washed and scented,


Some other noble's darling, less demented.

Where is that inward stare?

We'd rake him

With our fingers, lifting the rag to seek

What otherwise of which no Baptist'd dare to speak.


Saint John, the ram along your side

Must well attest

To thirst in the beast that eyes your outward

Quest, a shriek, an aching.

The man you herald seems aptly forsaken.



xvi          ERCOLE          1610



Here just in time to die—

They find me melting

Like my Cupid, fat as an infant for the slaughter.

The luck is that I had no daughter.


Even now the sun is spinning.

Here, these last few steps

Will get me some small purchase of my Maker.

This oven's ready for the baker.


How kind, they bind me with some cloth,

A bit of ice.

I'm lying down or is it up?

Satan alone has seen me sup.


Where would they have me, in their church?

I've worshipped

In this house of prostitution—this priest's a nun.

Here where I'm lying, better brave the sun.


This Merisi whom you try to save

Has loved an infant,

Infant's flesh and feel.

You raise him up, he's buried in the squeal.



The wonder is the life that we are given,

Not that we make it ugly by the living.

We eat the food upon our plate,


By plate and food forgiven.

They scream to look at me, God's fingers,

Like semen from a corpse—

Ugly enough!


But only the odor lingers.

Here, your hands are rough, be gentle, kind,

You'll hear me scream.

I have lived my disease, fear only my mind.


They act as if my spit's contagious,

There behind their gauze,

As if death itself is ageless,

Some fearful final cause.


They carry me toward the altar of their parish,

There where an artist toiled

To live in oil.

I cannot fear where they will watch me boil.


I cannot fear,

I cannot ache that death is just a breath

Past the last heave, the last lunge.

Jesus, relent!  You called me sing, I only sung.



xvii          SLEEPING CUPID          1607-08



This sleep is lost on innocence,

A child, an infant

Hooked in the art of sleep, the pale of light

Accentuating repose, hardly of this world.

One wonders at the slumber where he's curled.


One wonders at the cast of skin,

The sallow tints

Suggesting some vile sickness of the flesh,

That Cupid, tasting of the darts he's cast,

Recoils toward obscenity, a leak, some past beyond


His birth, a dalliance

Only the artist

Can suggest in the swell of belly, bloated

For our cerebration, who would feast

On his mute form, an old whore with an infant's charm.


Where have you seen such children,

Fierce Merisi?

We live protected lives perhaps.

Where he has suckled only Satan could attest,

Suckling an infant on his manly chest.


The slight gleam of white on dark

Teeth, the plump hand

Curled innocently against his side—nothing

Can hide sheer decadence and rot

Which coil him in an ancient swell, got


Of an ancient curse.  WE curse

The artist who has caught

This terror, shrieking from his own in gruesome flight,

Here toward some darker night

Of his own making, some sad awakening.


Curse fate which handed this great

Master such a vision,

That all his genius clings to flesh and fierce

Derision, triumph of the worm, worm's smile,

A terrible scar.  We seem and yet we are.


Are trapped in some faint gleam

Of recognition in an

Infant's teeth, some world we've fashioned

In the absence of belief, a grief, an aching.

Dear Lord, forgive the infants that we've taken.


Forgive Merisi, who was haunted

By such scenes

That, come what might, he'd fashion them in oils

For our poor sight, a sadder delectation.

Who died in flight forsaken, sadly mistaken.