Demons (Caravaggio in Malta)
25 January 2021

I have demons.

They’re like 
the angry mob 
in old Westerns. 
The ones
that clamour outside
the sheriff’s office.  
Their goats gotten
by loose tongues
at the saloon
and too much
cheap whiskey.

I’ve just woken
from a sleep
that would be
a good dry run
for death.

I am drinking
Earl Gray tea
that I sip from
a glass mug
behind an antique
Secretary desk
on a gallerija balcony
in Floriana.

I am fresh
to the country after
an eerily quiet
transit and flight.
I flew in hungover 
like nobody’s business class.

The Grand Harbour
is spread open before me
like the pages of a history book.
Over there are the church domes 
of the Three Cities.  
The fortified walls
that once repelled the attentions 
of the Ottomans
and their persistent cannon shot
centuries ago.

My demons carry
pistols on their hips.  
They wave rifles 
and torches, angrily
outside the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff paces
back and forth inside.  
He is a good man.  
A Gary Cooper-type.  



He peeks out frequently
at the mob from behind
shuttered windows.  
He is protecting a prisoner
who is the cause 
of all this palaver.  
He doesn’t necessarily 
like this prisoner, 
but he will die
defending him if he has to. 
He believes in due process,
a man’s right to a fair trial
and all of that strong
silent man stuff.

A dhajsa cuts through
the harbour water.
It rows back and forth.
It has two occupants, 
one is at the tiller 
the other works the paddles
standing up and facing forward
in the Maltese fashion. 
They look from this distance,
like black figures painted
on a Grecian urn
or the blurred brushstrokes
of a Victorian watercolour.  

Caravaggio sailed into 
this harbour in 1606.   
He was seeking refuge. 
The goodwill of his patrons 
was exhausted.  
A man was dead
on the streets of Rome!
There was a price 
on his head you know. 

Here, under the auspices 
of the Knights of St. John 
he was to paint
his largest piece.   
The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.
It hangs not far
from where I am sitting,
at St. Johns Co-Cathedral in Valletta.

Caravaggio outstayed
his welcome.
The goodwill of the knights wore thin
once his masterpiece had been delivered.
He would never outrun his demons.  
They caught up with him back in Italy.

Please don’t think I’m trying
to compare myself to the man.
This is just to say
that I am back in Malta,
and the quality of light here
reminds me of his story,
and a hundred other things.
And I am escaping a Canadian winter 
and demons you all know by name.

One of them is on horseback.
He swings a hanging rope.
And this isn’t Hollywood,
no, here,
the sheriff is overrun.

My demons might be cliches, 
but they always get their man.