When Cassowary was pope he would tumble over all of a sudden like a cardboard cutout. When I was pope I kept crawling out from behind furniture like I was coming back from the dead. Always though we made sure to capture a dove, to shove it indoors and make sure it had places to perch so it wouldn’t freak out the whole time we were trying to play, “Pope.” The dove was the holy spirit. In the mornings we gathered the twistiest sticks we could find, branches that looked more like arterial growths than the thin limbs of a tree. To counter the white dove, we also had a black iron bird we’d found in the attic. Maybe it was supposed to be a lawn ornament or something. We had the live white dove and the black iron bird. One of the birds meant something we hadn’t defined. We were winding wild coils around everything. We were wrapping up the world and getting ready for a surprise. The only light in the room was fluorescent, stringy and sickening. I made papal decrees and then Cassowary would secede me and counter-edict and our congregation of birds would confuse what the current law of the church happened to be. When we took our turn as pope we placed on our heads a hat made of reinforced mylar. When I looked at Pope Cassowary I could see the world which was behind me. Pope Cassowary would reprimand me for not looking him in the eye, but he knew from when I was his pope, how hard it was not to see what it was to be always before something. Why that hat was so much more enthralling than a regular old mirror, we couldn’t say. When I was pope I would make Cassowary, the dove and the black iron bird line up and I would listen to them confess their sins. The angles of their shame were always downward and shadowed, even in the ill light of the tubes overhead. I would absolve them by speaking to them through the coil and tapping the curled branch upon their shoulders. The dove was the only one who seemed bothered by this absolution. Even if we could get him to stand in line, he never sat still for the pardon ritual. We did not recognize that we were forcing forgiveness on the Holy Spirit. No matter how many times I was pope, I was still made nervous each time I placed the mylar cap on my head. It was so light and yet such a heavy burden all at once. I tried to avoid the feeling that there was nothing to do. Pope Cassowary decreed: “Be not afraid of the broken or restored!” We were trying to make faith a series of guesses instead of a practice. We stayed up all night and lied to each other.
Jac Jemc's first novel, My Only Wife, is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in 2012. She is the poetry editor for decomP and a fiction reader for Our Stories. She blogs her rejections at jacjemc.wordpress.com.
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