'Chiaroscuro' by Louise Nicholas | States of Poetry SA - Series Two

London 2016

At the National Gallery I pay sixteen outraged pounds
to view the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition. No chiaro
to speak of, only scuro, each canvas caked in mud-brown
and bad-blood red on a background of black black black.
I dodge the ladies of the U3A religious art class, decline

the complimentary depressive illness, and in a quick scan,
meet the resentful eyes of a carping King of the Jews.
He parts the flesh around a deep gash in his side. ‘Look!’
he cries. ‘As if crucifying weren't enough!’ I’m defensive
as a guilt-edged politician who can’t say Sorry.

The flight into Egypt fills the opposite wall: Joseph,
the sleep-deprived stepfather, flat-backed, out cold; Mary,
her frock undone, nipple dripping milk, martyring herself
to the earthly demands of a smug and smiling Jesus,
his know-all tell-nothing gaze double-daring disbelief.

I make a dash for chiaro, albeit in the grey day
that leans on the railings overlooking Trafalgar Square.
Its spouting fountains, puffed-up pigeons,
and 23-foot bronze thumbs-up on the rent-a-plinth,
are all I need of heaven and a welcome relief.