When Artists Go Bad by John Kotula

busy in the fleshWhile passing through

The Albuquerque airport

I saw Caravaggio in chains;

Thick ones on his wrists,

Thin ones that tinkled

Around his ankles

Hobbling his stride.

He was being transported

By federal marshals

For crimes against orthodoxy.

busy in the fleshOne was muscular, handsome, Hispanic.

The other wore a Hawaiian shirt

And an expression

That said

Murder is always justified

To maintain the status quo.

Even humbled by captivity,

Caravaggio had a somewhat sinister air.

So did the tears tattooed

In the corner

busy in the fleshOf his eye,

And the spider web on his elbow.

The artist and his two guards

Were given special handling

At security.

I lost sight of them.

But later they were seated

On stools at the counter of

All Aboard Noodles.

Caravaggio was seated in the middle

busy in the fleshEating from a steamy glass bowl

With a porcelain spoon,

Slices of pink pork

Like poker chips

Floating in golden broth

White noodles looped

Like calligraphy.

Trying not to stare

I passed them by.

When first class was called

busy in the fleshFor my flight to DC

I made a last minute trip

To the bathroom.

Caravaggio stood at the urinal

Dick in manacled hands

Pissing loudly.

The Hispanic marshal

Stood one step behind him

A respectful distance

But within easy arm’s reach.

busy in the fleshThey spoke like

Business acquaintances

Which I suppose they were.

“When we woke up this morning

I had to scrape the ice off

The fucking windshield.”

“Where did you guys

Stay last night, Los Alamos?”

“I don’t know where the hell we were.

He was driving.”

busy in the fleshThe marshal spoke perfect English,

But Caravaggio had a heavy Italian accent.

I was surprised

He spoke English

At all.

I wanted to say,

“Signore,

Over the years

Your art has given me

So much pleasure.

busy in the fleshThank you for creating

All that beauty.”

I wanted to say,

“That bowl of noodles

Made my mouth water.”

Under the circumstances –

The US marshal,

The chains,

Carravagio vigorously shaking his dick –

I said nothing.

busy in the fleshThey walked out together

Law enforcement holding the elbow

Of a ground breaking artist

Gone bad.

I was filled with regret

For gratitude unspoken.

For passing on the noodles.

busy in the flesh
Busy In the Flesh © 2013 James Conant
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