February 14, 2017

I’m in New York & I Guess the Pope is, too

by Chen Chen

Passing by an artisanal hotdog stand, I overhear
two strangers talking about him like
like, he’s the BEST Pope EVER,
while I’m eating Skittles
by the fistful, like a foot away,
like I’m celebrating, too, but I
don’t think I am, I think
I am hungry & don’t want to buy an actual lunch,
however artisanal, & if a poem is
talk, overheard, or talk,
hearing itself, let’s make this
an honest talk, I’m not sure why I’ve come
here, this city of endless strangers,
I’m not sure why I’ve come
back, except that some strangers
asked me to read some of my poems to them,
& I did, last night, & it was enjoyable
though not as much as these Skittles,
& isn’t candy supposed to help, at least
with most temporary forms of sadness,
& the Pope does seem to help
with the trickier, chronic sadnesses,
& I mean the Pope, not Jesus or God, I mean
Pope Francis, PF, the P,
this guy, the joyful way he speaks
about family, the kind of family
a man & a woman make,
almost makes me believe
in his ability as a public speaker.

If I had my own private meeting with the Pope
I’d tell him the truth: I believe in Skittles,
Starburst, & Jolly Ranchers. I believe
in my boyfriend’s ability to fix
my computer. I believe in his need
to fix my computer before I really
fuck it up. I believe in his lips, his armpits,
his longest nose hair. I believe
in helping him with that last one.
If I had my own private meeting with the Pope
I’d ask him for the truth: do you
know what family is?
Would you call it family or love
or why should I care what you call it
when two days ago in Texas, my boyfriend
gets the call: his mother might die
in the next five days. When the cancer
has won, & his flight on Tuesday
won’t get him there till Wednesday,
when it is Sunday, when we are in Texas,
when he asks me whether he should just drive,
when I say I don’t know, when he says he
will drive, when he gets in the car,
gets in the car on Sunday & drives,
when Oklahoma Sunday Missouri Sunday
Missouri Missouri Monday morning
I am on a plane to New York he is in the car in Ohio
Ohio is not where he is supposed to be
his mother is not where she is supposed to be
his mother is his mother is was in Upstate New York
his mother’s body his Monday morning his mother
is gone & he did not make it in time to say
any word he did not make it to her she did
not make it she had no time Pope Jesus God good people
of this ridiculous town

let’s be honest—why didn’t I go with him? Why
have I come here, the wrong New York?
To dodge sorrow? To claim opportunity? To claim
she was his mother, that’s all? But I can’t stop
her face, her voice in the hospital,
when the social worker came, asked if everyone
in the room was family—when his mother,
from her hospital bed, looked
right at me, & said, Yes.

If I had a private meeting with you, stranger,
fellow stranger, I’d tell you
first to stop eating so much junk.
Then I’d tell you to go. To go
to the ones you won’t let go of.
Even if it takes all you have to get there.
Even if you don’t can’t want to but
won’t make it in time.


Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and forthcoming spring 2017 from BOA Editions, Ltd. His work has appeared in two chapbooks and in publications such as Poetry, Indiana Review, Dusie, Phantom, and Best of the Net. A Kundiman and Lambda Literary fellow, Chen is currently pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. For more, visit him at chenchenwrites.com.

Photo Credit: Jenny Brown