In Search of Sheep by Lucian Mattison
The first pope I saw
was the toy poodle in a glass
box, traveling faith, bullet
proof as it glided along pavement.
His reach extended as far as his nose
could sniff, his scent
filling the plate glass cage,
numbed touch, my tiny head
bowed beside my mother’s
weeping mien, television
screen sweeping across crowds
of devoted. The pistol
was an old hat means of choosing
popes, the conclave for Saint
Peter an older
and bigger hat only trumped
by the one on the pope’s head
and those dozens of others
touching brims at the Preakness.
In any case, I can deduce
that hats of such size are synonymous
with exceptional wealth,
whether spiritual or material,
it must be quite a strain on the neck.
Perhaps, that’s why at one point
clergy members were encouraged
to use the papal gym,
where altar boys and laity spotted
for the crumpled little men,
helped lift dumbbells
over their shoulders,
tiny pope traps flexed, triangular
and rock hard like their faith
reflected back at them in the mirror.
When it came to exercise,
most popes were goalkeepers
as children, watching
the scramble of other kids
all intent on putting boot to ball.
If you ask popes
they will tell you how they enjoyed
the privilege of being the only ones
that could use their hands to keep
everyone else from enjoying themselves.
As everyone knows, popes
are very entertaining as they perform
their duties. They know a lot of jokes
about friends, rabbis, monks, imams,
etc. Not everyone enjoys them, though.
One pope was shot.
I guess it’s pretty sad,
but they had another waiting in the wings.
At least, he enjoyed his tenure.
Recently, I heard the pope
was beginning his US tour,
and after thinking of Katy Perry’s
forthcoming work, I set out
on this hunt in search of sheep—
maybe the shepherd. I only found
these old jokes about hats
and the Popemobile (a Humvee
Pancho likens to a sardine can),
and that he maintains
he hasn’t got much to lose in death.
My mother still gets very emotional
when she sees the pope,
but that’s more an Argentinean
pride thing. I guess I am proud
of his current manifestation.
Today, my Catholicism
is some antique Savonarola
or Chaise Longue I put in storage
because they make little sense
in a modern living room.
Until now, it never seemed evangelical
thrones gave half a shit
about the warming of heaven
or how to make those puffy clouds
inclusive for all,
even if it means a woman being author
of her own decisions,
or encouraging two life partners
to lovingly cuddle on said
plush Chaise Longue. Optimism
is a strong suit of mine,
so I won’t get carried away. My hope
rests in the thought that the flies
are leaving the lips of our dead popes
in search of fresh carcasses,
that the remains of our popes and clergy
are treated as such, just bones,
some tangled up
in the roots of an upturned tree,
faults and crimes
evidenced by the trauma
dealt on their skeletons,
and some placed in a wooden box
labeled Well Behaved Pope,
and set aside so we can move on
to more important things.
Lucian Mattison‘s full-length collection, Peregrine Nation, won the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize from The Broadkill River Press. His poems appear or are forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, apt, Everyday Genius, Hobart, Muzzle, Nashville Review, and elsewhere online and in print. His fiction is soon to appear in Fiddleblack and Per Contra. He is an associate editor for Big Lucks. To read more, visit lucianmattison.com.