portion of the artwork for David Lohrey's poem

Holy Smoke
David Lohrey

I. Tenancy

I’ve seen a lot of churches. That lovely
Greek Orthodox on New York’s Upper West Side,
its interior powder blue and white. Oh, wow.
And in Rome, my God, the Santa Maria della Vittoria,
and on any street in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico,
or take Landau Island between Macau and Hong Kong;
churches are everywhere but not here.

They’ve been abandoned like sharecropper shacks
not long ago on the way to Little Rock or in Mississippi.
The wind blows through them, they’re used in desperation,
to protect one from the weather, for crude copulations,
or for defecating in the cold. They come in handy.

To get protection from the cold, some privacy
for a long-postponed urination. Is that all churches
are good for? Water closets for the poor? Such folly,
such desperation; was it once called desiccation?
Warring factions such as believers and non-believers
share a bathroom. Blasphemy is lonely.

II. Depths of Disaffection

Are churches meant as cold storage?
Nothing more than closets for Christian artifacts,
bins for Renaissance rubbish?
A filing cabinet for foolishness,
a site for buried knights,
retarded kings and perverse priests,
with postcards: two for a dollar.

What an end to human charity.

To be closed off and boarded up like an old
vaudeville house, like theatres on the Keith/Albee circuit,
silent movie houses of the soul,
demonstrations of human folly
and a little devil worship, like LA’s Ambassador Hotel,
where Robert Kennedy bled to death,
right next to the Coconut Grove.

Nothing more than mommy dearest,
episodes of human anguish, dramatizations
of belief and superstition; a house full of Halloween
masks, a closet of soiled kimono,
a toilet with no plumbing.

III. Indifference

The gargoyles are watching.
Those naughty faces stare from the belfry.
They stick their stone tongues out and wave their pricks
at people passing below. Some are pissing
on those who shuffle along the pavement.

They rain greetings on passers-by,
cursing at their indifference.
Look up and you’ll see the faces
of the angels and the devils;
Their grimaces and tight smiles greet you.
Go in or cross the street, quickly.
Get out of the way of the golden showers.

Why else place monsters on God’s sacred palace?
Scowling goblins, volcanic midgets, smug angels
growl or grimace and spit right in their faces,
reminding those on the way their path is blocked.
They’ll never get away. The end awaits.
Death is true. Look forward to it,
face it, or live one’s life in a permanent state of dread.

IV. Murder in the Cathedral

Those Baroque cherubs with bare asses cling
to the cathedral’s ceiling, plucking golden harps,
as they tug at human hearts.
They hang like bats from the ceiling, chubby tots,
babies, not even toddlers. Gazing down,
they denounce vanity but celebrate the divine.

In the courtyard lies the monastery’s beer hall,
a haven for families and alcoholics.
The once sacred place has been turned into an attraction;
St. Jerome as another Mickey Mouse, a sacred Donald Duck.
The gargoyles are mere decorations,
there for our amusement, there as ghouls
and goblins meant to rile or to tickle.

Did the Soviets have it right?
Kill off the Christians and rebuild the churches.
Bring in the tourists! Against all warnings,
written and spoken, tourists snap selfies, dick pics in the pews.
Husband climbs the ladder while wife plays look-out
to break off the cherub’s tiny prick. That’s where we’re at.
Next she’ll ask the priest for his autograph.

If such sights were never meant to be uplifting
but only for distracting or merely for haunting,
meant not to preoccupy, not to impart wisdom,
but only to amuse, like taking in a motion picture,
riding a roller coaster or visiting a brothel,
then churches were built for fools.

They’ve become destinations like park benches and beaches,
like restaurants with patios. The priest sucks
strawberries and cruises cute waiters. He orders the tilapia
with a side of organic honey. Who is he kidding?
No wonder we imagine priests, like everyone else, with hard-ons.
Who ever thought priests not strong enough to resist
what all men know is sordid? Masturbation, say what you will,
is not a celebration; whatever the elaboration,
it is never more than a consolation. But without belief, how can one
be expected to see a priest as any different?

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 49 | Spring/Summer 2017