by Ryan Z. Nock
He blinks as his head tumbles across the cracked grass of Elah. One
blink, and he sees his headless body still twitching beneath the man
who has slain him.
In the dark, Caravaggio has to kneel to see where the daub of alizarin
yellow landed after it fell off his palette. A thin shaft of light
from his barred window illuminates the toe of his shoe, where the
paint mingles with Naples’s dirt and with the blood he stepped through
this evening, darkening the oil to a perylene crimson.
A second blink, and he witnesses the world turned upside down when his
head comes to a stop against a rounded river stone. His skin begins to
numb, but he still tastes grit, still smells iron, still sees the
upended throngs of victorious warriors cheering his fall.
Caravaggio dabs his brush into the tainted mix on his shoe. His prison
term does not afford him the luxury of waste. He stands and faces his
canvas. On it a young man, sword in hand, emerges from an ivory black
world, holding a giant’s head. A boy really, he handles his trophy
with disgust, with a hint of melancholy.
A third blink. His killer steps through the crowd and towers over him
like a colossus blotting the summer sun to blackness, like the hand of
a judging God.
During another night’s carousings through Rome’s looming slums,
Caravaggio’s dueling blade pierced Ranuccio’s ale dampened cloak,
clipped his shoulder blade, and ripped through his heart. Caravaggio
hears echoes of his own drunken laughter from this three-year old
murder. He has heard them every night during his flight from
judgement, at every crossroad on his exile from the city where he once
showed men the human grandeur of the divine.
Goliath blinks for the fourth time since David decapitated him with
his own sword. He feels the cold contrition of death’s coils, and he
sees naught but the expected blackness of eternity.
But then, a tug at his hair wakens his slacking eyes. David,
victorious, raises Goliath’s head, proof of Providence. Israel exalts
its future king, but Goliath looks beyond the raw umber armies, past
their iridescent pewter arms and red ochre armor that fade to cold
black, to the walls of the valley, to brilliant rose terebrinth
flowers of the pistacia trees. His eyes close for the final time upon
this black world, and its last glorious color.
In his cell, penance on his lips, Caravaggio ponders the giant’s face,
his own deceased, defeated visage. Carefully, he paints one drop of
blood on David’s blade. Even kings must understand that every death