His Holiness

Apr 21, 2017

Today’s poem is His Holiness by William Carpenter. Bill was the first faculty member at College of the Atlantic where he still teaches literature and writing. He’s the author of three books of poems and two novels, the most recent is Wooden Nickel (Little Brown).

This poem originated in an evening Bill spent with the late Terry Plunkett, longtime UMA professor and poet. He writes, “We were eating and drinking at Terry's home in Hallowell late one night, and he said, ‘You know, I have a stocking that was once worn by the Pope!’ So he got out this ancient long white fabric stocking, not sure if it was silk, and he took off his shoe and sock and put it on. He let me try it on too, and for a moment I was wearing on one foot a long stocking whose color could only be described as dirty-white, considerably grayer and more moldy than off-white. A couple of days later I needed to start a poem and that night came into mind...I began thinking I had tried on not just the stocking but the whole pope.”

His Holiness by William Carpenter

I wake one morning to find myself the Pope.
For years I’ve been a regular American,
not even Catholic, not even related to any
Catholics, and now I am infallible.
A little thirsty, I think of water and it
begins to rain, in midwinter and where
it rains, the snow vanishes and tiny flowers
appear on the lawn. From the flowers
the sound of voices singing an Italian hymn
about the fourfold nature of the beautiful.
It’s absurd to be infallible alone, so I
decide to visit your house and show you who
I really am. Since it’s hard moving in all
these heavy robes, I change to street clothes
for the trip. I look like anyone again, and
as I drive along, no one notices it is the Pope
except for the hoofed animals, who kneel down
in their fields as the miraculous blue Toyota
dashes towards Bangor, carrying the primate of
a vast religion, in plain clothes at the moment
but always ready to reveal himself in his full
splendor, even unclothe his Body with its wounds,
its three birthmarks, its properties of death
and resurrection, its irrational belief in love.

Poem copyright © 1985 William Carpenter.
Reprinted from Rain, by permission of William Carpenter.