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

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