It’s been Christmas at the Vatican
for hours already; but midnight mass
flickers into their ten p.m. motel room
like an accident. What’s more,
the announcer is busily translating
every Latin phrase into rich
and obfuscating Spanish.
The pope looks terrible.
Under his golden robes and mitre,
he sags to one side like a cat
stuffed into fancy pajamas.
The camera can hardly bear to film him;
it keeps switching to a chanting
Salvadoran priest, dark and beautiful,
voice a thin angelic tenor,
though he is horribly nervous,
his shadowy chin trembling
between each honeyed line.
At home in San Salvador, his mother
is prostrate with fear of God,
O thinks, pressing her cheek into K’s
bare arm. Now the camera shifts
to pan a row of old ladies draped in black
furry coats and orange lipstick;
they glare, outraged;
they look exactly like the old ladies
who instigate fender benders
on Elmwood Avenue, carelessly shooting
homeward after a day spent
plotting dominion; yet thank Heaven,
they’re also the sentimental type
who adore enchanting priests.
How good of the holy church
to meet their needs with such pity
and take the heat off this poor pope
slumping unfilmed beneath his foreign
vault, his cold sky, a few brisk lights
scattered across the black. Not far off,the faithful sleep, safe as milk.
[from How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010)]