By Joan Roberta Ryan

(After Caravaggio’s self-portrait as Bacchus, in the Galleria Borghese)

No wine, and the fruit is scant,
softening grapes to hold, and
barely a bunch for the table,
peaches too hard to ripen,
and not a leaf among them.
I pull a strand of ivy through the window,
twist, and Bacchus has his crown.

I wish Minnito, sleepy-eyed,
flush-cheeked, with rounded arms
were sitting in my place,
but even friends expect a fee —
and food and drink and laughter.

Now, for the face in the mirror.
I reach backward for the brush and wince.
The sheet about my shoulder slips;
I stop, secure it with a bell cord,
try to laugh. The lips twist up, but
the brow stays creased, and
yellowed eyes squint back in pain.

My palette needs more ochre,
terra verde, too, for flesh drawn tight,
discolored like the peaches.
The lines around the nose need darkening,
the shoulder more defining,
youth burned away.

Well, let this be the morning after,
when even godlings turn dull green.
And keep the lamp flame burning,
so my man of wealth will note
how every grape reflects the light
and draw his purse string open.


*Caravaggion painted “Bacchjino Malato” while recovering from a nearly fatal case of jaundice.

Joan Roberta Ryan’s recent poems appear in a number of journals including Atlanta Review, Nimrod, The Sow’s Ear Review, Spillway, Naugatuck River Review, and Crab Orchard Review.  “Bacchino Malato”—first printed in Off the Coast—will be included in Joan’s collection Dark Ladies & Other Avatars, scheduled for publication this autumn.



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