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I was once the Pope

This is not what I expected.
Red was my colour, or white,
white as a virgin’s skin. Robes
hung from me as delicate
as the smooth charcoal tissue
that floats from the fire.

Each year I am reincarnate.
Children press their fingers
to my frame, glue and paper
swaddling these new bones
of wood and chicken wire.
In six months I am fleshed.

My face grows more grotesque
with the passing years, ears
larger, cheeks greyer. Knock
your knuckle on my body
and hear my hollowness.
But I am not without substance:

I am laced with the stuff of death.
At first, the heat agonised me.
Now I welcome it, I am ready.
Red is my colour – red as earth
scorched through and bloodied
red as a child’s gaudy toy.

And when this shell explodes,
splinters of me will grate the sky,
the crowd will be sated.
You can look for me if you must –
trodden into mud, dusting trees –
go on, stare. I am not there



* first appeared in Iota 89, Spring 2011

Published inUncategorized

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Robin Houghton 2024