The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes

When the last pope first came to this country, I was in graduate school in Iowa. People that I actually knew -- people I would never have suspected of such impulses -- drove to Chicago to attend a mass presided over by John Paul II. Perhaps it was because John Paul & the poet Czeslaw Milosz had been boyhood friends & we were poets in wanting, after all. But I'm not sure my friends even knew enough to know about the pope's connection to the poet. I only learned about it later. But I stood mystified. Even then, I would have been reluctant to subject myself to a stadium-sized crowd to see, say, the Rolling Stones. (Maybe Dylan.) But the pope? The man who stood for a politics I couldn't imagine subscribing to? It was the ceremony, they told me. And the personality. I'll grant that John Paul had personality, that he was a sort of intellectual, though of a distinctly medieval sort. But Benedict the whatever? The man sounds like Peter Sellers doing a prissy German accent. The gushing coverage on NPR as I was driving to work was simply too much. I turned off the radio & listened to my rotten muffler. I have a protestant detestation of ceremony that extends  even into my academic life. I got drafted last year to go as my department's representative to the university's awards event. The fucking thing is three hours of endless high-minded blather & made-up tradition. I think it was the most boring three hours of my life. The Catholic Church, despite its liberals & liberationists, stands for a politics of prejudice. Sure there are sincere Catholics who believe in social justice. Good for them. But what the hell would Jesus say? Jesus who hung out with hookers & queers & the poor, for God's sake! Did you know that the pope wears $600 shoes? Sell all that you have & give it to the poor. Commercial spiritual gush. Advertising. Power. The rhetoric of peace without the least sense of responsibility. The rhetoric of compassion riding in a white Mercedes. American Catholics themselves have doubts about the "rigorous" religious faith this pope demands of the faithful. The oppression of women & the exclusion of gay persons, that's rigor. And yet the secular media falls all over itself to be respectful. It is a measure of our own depravity that we do not hoot this man from the stage, that we do not ignore him as the dangerous anachronism that he is. And, sure, this is an anti-Catholic rant. I was raised among right-wing protestant fundamentalists they're even worse. Coming soon: why the hardcore "rationalist" atheists are just as stupid.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

5 thoughts on “The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes”


    When I call you up it’s because
    I want to hear again how a voice
    can hold something free but not deprived
    something singing but unappeasable

    no illusory exultation but like
    Meister Eckhart reiterating his idea
    of divine consolation that kind of
    peristalsis with a touch of frenzy

    thrown in to heighten the awareness
    the tenderness of love that makes love
    difficult and wants to prolong the difficulty

    unbearable unbearable it begs to sing
    like a grieving mother’s wailing
    on the radio all the way home.

  2. shoes yes. but what’s worn under the dress? what would monty python say? dangerous & hateful as well as ridiculous. that story abt the emperor and his ‘cool’ gossamers and the laddie who outed him doesn’t portray him as cruel and dangerous, does it? i don’t suppose it’s abt anything but power finally. as my great grammy jane delehant would intone: BACKWARD OH BACKWORD/ OH TIME IN THY FLIGHT/ MAKE ME A CHILD AGAIN/ JUST FOR TONIGHT.
    in this our green life popes and presidents think they own all the colors. edward mycue

  3. I suppose there’s a bad joke in here somewhere. Question: Why does the Pope wear red shoes? Answer: Because the pink ones make him look like a child molester. For much of my life I would never have enetrtained the possibility of a Pope joke.

  4. That’s the one thing the fundamentalists I grew up among have not mastered — joke control. Even as kids in fear of hell’s fires, we made jokes about the preacher & his misbegotten children.

  5. I am a Roman Catholic;
    but due to circumstances,
    I am a cloistered one,
    an apartment monk/
    belonging to no order other than
    the one of my own imagining.

    Were a pope to do away with
    all the papal trappings–
    and there is a prediction that
    the pope following this pope
    will be the last pope–
    I would be greatly surprised,
    and deeply pleased;
    but that is only the surface
    of what needs to change.
    Even so, I am not without sin either.

    Peace, love, community.

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