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Caravaggio in Dumfries
On the first ever day of spring, Caravaggio
strolls over the old stone bridge to market.
There, he orders three pounds of pippins,
two of red delicious, one each of bananas
and of pears. His eye tells him what’s ripe,
what’s sweet, crisp or tart. Lastly, he points
to a large bunch of inky-blue grapes. Per favore
“Nice ones these,” remarks the vendor –
a tiny lady in a black Bulls cap with one
winking gold tooth. She’s noticed how
taken her customer is with the grapes.
Caravaggio thinks he’ll paint them later,
include them in his knowing Little Bacchus –
that sallow-skinned portrait of his self.
He is twenty or so – fresh from the country –
and what he feels this warming morning
standing before these piled fruit stalls
is not innocence but wide-eyed appetite –
an openness to all fecundity. History
will call him stormy petrel, tempestuous,
libidinous; temper as much as fever
will eventually kill him. But this morning
all that feels so unlikely; impossible even,
as he heads for home, cradling his five bags of fruit.
At the bridge head, one of a pair of swans,
circling its young, raises itself from the river
and lifts up its wings. A slab of white light
hits Caravaggio with a shock of pleasure
like a lover’s open thigh, a magnificence
that folds in on itself, as indeed light folds
into darkness. A lesson his eye takes in
before he returns across the sparkling waters.
first published in Landscapes and Legacies (iynx, 2003), from In The Becoming - New and Selected Poems (Polygon, 2009), © Tom Pow 2003, used by permission of the author