I am an optimist, linguist, singer, and founder of the Broadneck Writers’ Workshop. My chapbook, World Class: Poems Inspired by the ESL Classroom (Apprentice House, 2014) is based on my experiences teaching adult immigrants. Other poetry and prose appear domesticallyand abroad in such journals as KansasCity Voices, Kestrel, Angle, and Steam Ticket.
Singing for the Pope
April 16, the Year of Our Lord 2008 – Washington, DC
When I sang Vespers for the Pope it was
a day I thought I never would forget.
Yet five years later, all that I recalled
were three details: our song, his shoes, the fans.
My journal tells me all that I forgot
when duty overwhelmed my sense of awe.
As one of twenty-four paid choristers —
some atheists, some faithful, and some lapsed —
whose job it was to sing at Sunday Mass,
for Holy Days and concerts all year long,
this was a paycheck with an awesome perk
to compensate for fifty weeks a year.
We sang in the most resonant of crypts
for Cardinals and cameras. No one else.
Two hours we waited for His Holiness.
The Secret Service squired us to the john.
Two basses swooned. One lost his breath control.
Two tenors clowned around — brash college kids.
We sang for Benedict in all his pomp
a Tu Es Petrus, but
his name was Joseph, and to me he looked
like Under Dog’s arch-rival, evil doc
Simon Bar Sinister, whose smile
lacked the warmth I missed from my old Pope.
“The Rottweiler” approached within our arc
to genuflect before the crucifix
so close that I could almost touch his robe,
but I could not look up. I had to sing.
The score was too complex to memorize.
Eyes glued to music, all I saw was shoes.
Prada slippers red as cardinal plumes,
ruby slippers fit for Dorothy.
But Oz was in another part of town
where Mormons, only, were allowed inside.
Upstairs the Catholic faithful watched on screen
a heavily accented, rambling speech.
When it was done, the best part of the day
was watching novice nuns, some in their teens,
run out the doors and down two flights to trail
the Pope-mobile, hysterical with screams.
They reached for him, their lord and rock star god,
the Pontiff who had been a Hitler youth.
And all along the barricade I heard
the beat of drums and guitar strums and cries
of Viva Papa . . . my thought, too, recalling
John Paul II, the lost Pope of best hope.
After that, five years: the new Dark Age —
the narrow rhetoric of canon law.
Now here comes Francis, stirring up the ire
of modern Pharisees too strict to love
the people Jesus would most want at church —
the exiled gays, aborters, divorcées,
poor and disadvantaged émigrés.
In black lace-ups and riding on the bus,
he meets his flock intent on healing wounds.
And all I want to do is sing for him,
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen!
sun flurries tease the southerly skies
blown on a stiff northwesterly breeze
gusting a hail of yellow birch leaves
skittering cross the sepia grass
scooting and scraping over concrete
tripping a whirl on grey cobble stone
paving the street with gamboling gold
transient as a flock on the wing
migrating south for tropical climes
snowbirds in flight from the cold
-first appeared in Pinesong
©2015 J.C. Elkin