The Mechanics of Killing a Man

by Julian Bishop

(after Caravaggio’s Beheading of St John)

Choose your saint or sinner, a Holofernes or John, it doesn’t have to be
a cephalophore stuttering like Patroclus or Paul. Maybe one you’ve soaked
in oils before, loins draped in folds of crimson, nudged by an ecstatic ram.

Lower the power on a prison yard lantern, desolate as a hospital ward
on the eleventh floor, assemble a dispassionate cast practised in the art
of severance – what is life anyway but a slow detachment of beating parts
before the rapid descent of the scabbard?

Clear the stage then arrange the players – a couple of prisoners, Salome
calm with salver, a token widow wailing, ears covered.

Throw your saint onto a blanket of sacrificial lamb, ensure a guard struggles
to complete the job, as if butchering an obstinate hock.

Capture him grabbing hold of a fistful of hair, coltello della misericordia
poised to dissever the head stoppered in the carcass.

Raise your brush, anoint it with cochineal from a soft-bellied bug,
sign your name in it, paint.