The O'Malley Poems
by Christopher T. George
O'Malley's first church in his new country:
Capela das Dores by the quay of the capital,
where the fishermen haul ashore red
snapper and mahi mahi and are filmed
for a American movie in which the lead portrays
a spoiled priest. The white bodies of film people
float in the lagoon as if crucified. O'Malley says
vespers as stars gather on the hotel terrace to sip
caipirinhas made of cachaça, sugar, lime. A blonde
in a red strapless dress reminds him of Brenda:
guilt and lust force the sweat to pour down
his back. He feels like a lawyer who's accepted
filthy money. His congregation, poor Indians,
mixed breeds, can care less for his fevered guilt.
O'Malley's the wafer in their mouths, God's word.
Four parts bread, three parts wine,
body and blood of Our Lord Jesus, the holy
water that flowed from your pierced side.
O'Malley fingers a rosary by the window,
meditates on Exodus and the golden calf
as the flooded Chuckwalla streams like bile
past his jungle cabin. He raises the wafer
high, a rising sun above the red and blue
daubed hair of the Mestite Indians. They're
like so many children in the wilderness. I awe
them with thy body as their priest offered up
a beating heart. Oh, Lord of Hosts, I am at war
with his ghost. Lord, don't permit me to doubt.
As fast as the river flows, may they believe
your miracles greater than his witchery!
The black volcanic schist of the mountaintop,
a god's face overlooking the Mestite jungle.
He knows legends lives in the village hens,
the woman grinding corn in a stone bowl.
With thy holy sword must I fight ignorance,
the works of the devil shrouded by lianas,
the serpent writhing on the path to paradise.
May your light guide us on life's journey.
He feels he fights darkness, the obsidian knife
that their ancient priest aims at their hearts.
Aye, Jesus, I am your tool for good and all,
with God's promise, the saints' bleeding souls
among toucans, iguanas, the waterfall of hope.
Not too different from Ireland after all-
the giant's well, the thumb of Cuchulain
like a teat offering succor to the poor.
The tree frogs score a symphony around him.
Mother's faith in the spirits of the grain,
the Mestites' belief in the power of the night.
Lord, instill in them the potency of your Word.
In colonial times, Mestites dived sixty feet to harvest
pink pearls for the ears of a Spanish infanta,
braved wave-swept headlands for mollusks
to yield purple to dye an emperor's robes.
Today, they're banana harvesters: teenagers climb
banana trees with harnesses attached to their heads,
then hooked to pulleys they drag the stalks,
heavy as a man, to the gringo packing plant.
The pulleys make the boys' heads
bleed. Lord save me, they appear
like little Christs with crowns of thorns.
As appeared in Triplopia,
Sense and Nonsense Issue, July 2003
O'Malley treks up to the presidential palace to hear
General Madragal's confession, because Archbishop
Costa's incapacitated with gout. A silk curtain
separates the penitant general and the priest; later,
the general takes O'Malley on a tour of his treasures.
He rat-a-tats the glass cases with his swagger stick,
finally reaches his prized Chinese celestial horse.
Madragal brags of the fortune he's paid for the jade
beast. Enough to keep several villages in comfort
for generations to come, O'Malley thinks. His
excellency has much to confess. Madragal smiles
wolfishly, "Because of the celestial horse's yang power,
it is China's mythical funerary animal, believed
to have the power to resurrect life from the grave.
In Zhouyuan, at the excavated ancestral tombs,
the Zhou drove ninety-five live stallions into a pit.
As the horses reared and struggled, they heaved earth
onto them, burying them alive. Archaeologists found
remains of the frantic horses; they studied the fractures
in their legs from their struggles. Padré, to possess
such power over nature, eh? Such a mass immolation!
Enjoy your sherry, Father. Drink up. I have enjoyed
unburdening myself to you. Affairs of state lay heavy
on me, like the gout on his excellency the Archbishop."
As appeared in Triplopia,
Sense and Nonsense Issue, July 2003
A purple chinkabutra monkey chatters
in the mango tree. O'Malley and Mother
Rosario ponder the altar stripped of its vessels.
"We may never retrieve those valuables!"
His horror is mixed with admiration,
"They'll certainly melt everything down."
Rosario's alabaster hand touches her breast,
"What are possessions, Padré, when Christ resides
within us?" O'Malley grins, "Archbishop Costa
will be heartbroken." High atop the mango,
mirrored in a gold salver, the monkey preens.
The Mestites celebrate a colonial miracle,
dancing at the Feast of the Blessed Virgin
of Pearl Fishers: a diver swept away in a freak
wave while harvesting pink pearls, saved
when the Virgin cast him on a remote reef.
O'Malley feels guilty as he feasts
at Archbishop Costa's palace under
rococo filigree, crystal chandeliers,
plump plaster angels, seated among
the elite: Señora and Señor Mendoza,
emperor of cigars; General Madragal;
banana mogul Herr Blitzer und Frau
-but O'Malley knows his congregants
will rejoice fed by the kind hands
of Mother Rosario and her sisters.
The Archbishop's a big Elvis fan:
a velvet King holds pride of place
next to an oil of the Blessed Virgin
by Manreso, the Mestite Goya.
As his eminence and his guests tunnel
into mountains of paella, succulent grouper,
mussels, blood red salsa, and guacamole,
O'Malley glows in anticipation of the books
for the village school, extorted by Costa
from Mendoza; the chapel furnishings
strong armed from Blitzer. He offers his own
private thanks to the Queen of Pearls:
Love me tender,
Love me true,
All my dreams fulfilled.
For my darlin' I love you,
And I always will.
Mother Rosario reigned as Miss Los Petos, 1948.
O'Malley tries to imagine Rosario in tiara, swimsuit,
high heels, but the image remains spectral beneath
starched habits and the convent's lysoled hallways
as he and Sister Evangelina clatter toward the iron-
studded door. "Padré," Sister slides aside; he passes
into a chamber scented of camphor, candle wax.
"You heeded my call," Mother Rosario whispers
through cracked lips. "Naturally," he hugs
prayer book as though it were a life raft, "a last
sacrament from your Irish priest." The purple
chinkabutra monkey chatters outside. He jokes,
"O'Malley, the organ grinder, and his monkey."
Rosario's laugh chimes in the cool shade.
He hears her sins, she swallows the wafer.
He trudges from the room a drowned man.
As appeared in WORM 25
Archbishop Costa hands O'Malley a kevlar vest
manufactured by Wilkinson Sword of England, like
the razor blade O'Malley runs over his jaw at dawn.
Costa smiles, "General Madragal sent a truckload.
Try it on," he smiles. "Now, you look like a model!"
he slaps his fat thigh, jiggles the rosé wine
on the table in the sacristy. O'Malley thinks,
At least he hasn't insulted me with an Uzi.
Costa winks, "With Delgado's guerillas loose
one can't be too safe. Frankly, we can't afford
to lose another priest. Young men don't pour
from the seminaries as they once did, Father."
O'Malley hides the obscenity in his closet, opens
his Bible: And the law went out that the wise
men should be killed. Blessed be the name of God
forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His.
X. O'Malley and the September Moon Insurgents
Civil war, and he's on the run, his holy vestments
packed in a paper bundle in the corner of the pig sty,
the chalice and orb hidden in darkness,
the vessels that fascinate the Mestites.
Trinkets don't interest Commissar Delgado.
Outside, his guerrillas round up villagers
for torture and indoctrination, root out
priests like a pig searches for truffles.
Astonished at his cowardice, O'Malley wallows in mud,
yet he knows the necessity to survive. He dreams
once more of Brenda. "Lord, is it more sinful
to lust than for my loins to melt with hers?"
On the highways leading to the hills, he's heard
that priests dangle from telephone poles.
The soldiers fire off a round. "Lord will
you accept me, an imperfect martyr?"
Delgado's henchmen are experts at stripping
a man's dignity like the layers of an onion.
Hunger moves in his bowels at the stink
of red snapper sizzling in the skillet;
the guerrillas hunch by their campfire, their
mountain voices thick with tequila. Arms yoked
behind his back, head level with the turf,
he watches a beetle with orange chevron heave
up a blade of grass, feel its way toward dawn.
XII. The September Moon Ransom
Commissar Delgado and his guerrillas play pinochle
as O'Malley and his fellow hostages huddle
in a dank, dark passage of an ancient pyramid.
Outside, tree frogs and insects buzz-saw the night.
The vinyl cord bites into O'Malley's wrists,
a slick of blood where he's tried to work free.
Chief Tumul Taka shakes his head at a mosquito;
the movement dislodges a stone in the wall. . .
a coconut-cord sack tumbles down by to their feet
something rainbowing in the ancient material.
"Pearls!" O'Malley breathes, "My God, pearls!
Commissar, here's your bloody ransom money!"
Next morning, Delgado sits smoking a fat stogie,
a mound of pearls shining on his campaign table.
He points with his Uzi. "Ah, Padré, you're lucky
the Archbishop did not have to raid his treasury.
"These pearls will keep us in guns and ammunition
for years. But more, they will help us to buy minds.
Our September Moon uprising is growing, Padré.
Mourn for the Catholic church and the oligarchy."
Freed to return to his mission, he scrutinizes
two young Americanos as the train bucks.
The boy tells the girl: "At the right moment I'll be
decisive. I won't watch the weather drift past
the window." She tugs at her necklace;
a blood splash illumines her yellow t-shirt.
A dark purple intaglio dangles on her chain:
Artemis with bow faces the forequarters of a fawn.
She grins, "Are you for real?" The expression sounds
arcane. Are they aid workers, tourists, missionaries?
Hmmmm. Not disciples of the man upstairs, I think.
"I can only promise to do my best," the boy pleads.
Their dialogue sounds strange, for his tongue
rarely wraps itself round Anglo-Saxon syllables.
The train drifts past burned villages, plantations;
in a clearing, a naked boy chases a black pig.
The couple huddle in a corner, sharing intimacies.
Along the car, the gabble and stink of Indians,
goats, hens. Should I tell them I speak English?
Not yet: they might require nuptials, absolution.
As appeared in Saucy Vox XII
Due to his bout with gout, Archbishop Costa
has switched from port to Scotch. He pours
himself an ample glass of Vat 69 as they sit
in noon shade on the tiled patio of his palace.
Dialling the Pope's phone number as they say
in Sligo. O'Malley savors a cool glass
of Negra Modelo. Costa says, "You'll have
heard of the devastation from the Los Peta
volcano, Father." A magpie lands on the birdbath,
eyes Costa's crucifix greedily. "The General says
ash buried the main camp of Delgado's insurgents.
Wiped out the curs! The emergency's over. We can
breathe again." A bead of Scotch gleams on his lip.
Later, celebrating Mass in the Mestite village,
O'Malley raises the wafer, conscious
of the finger he lost to Delgado.
He dreams that hands reach out
to him, as ash rains down.
Westward, the Los Petos mountains burn brightly.
Archbishop Costa scowls, "A fool with a Sterno.
Or a logger with a cigarillo. May the Lord save us."
A plane soars, drops pink fire retardant.
"To begin again, Father!" The priests meditate
in the frangipani-fragrant square of the capital,
where, from his own purse, Costa has planted
a grove of new Virgin de la Luca pines to shade
the old veterans as they play chess or dominoes.
"At two thousand meters, the pines need water.
Corregione, the parks manager, has supplied
water from the Fountain of the Presidentes."
The priests finish their offices. A sprinkle
of holy water joins Corregione's fountain water.
"Alas, the Lord has provided a plentiful supply
of bark beetle that we need to combat with spray.
Our country is in dire straits, Father O'Malley.
All we can do is spray and pray. Spray and pray!"
A film of sweat on his brow, O'Malley jogs
in Golden Gate Park; past a scrim of Monterey
pines, San Francisco's lost in fog. He feels
he's living in the Sixties before Vatican II,
or before the California became American
-the Bay open to Russians, Conquistadores.
He runs toward Haight and Stanyan Streets
to catch a bus back to the mission, through
a pink-blossomed rhododendron dell, past
the silent lake with its deserted pagoda.
Dark green leaves drip; a Steller's jay flashes
past him iridescent blue: a sharp reminder
of the brilliant quetzal of his adopted land,
he feels suddenly hollowed out, alone.
Home from his mission to attend the funeral,
O'Malley sits in the funeral car; his mass kit
jiggles on his knee. The lanes near Sligo glint
sodden with summer rain, just as he remembered.
People stand on the curbside as they pass, the Rolls
bumping along after the hearse. "Nice to see
that Dad was so cared about," O'Malley remarks.
"Dad's been gone so long, as if he'd gone
to another room," his sister Colleen sniffs.
"A richer conveyance than Da' ever rode in life!"
As he speaks, she twists a lace handkerchief.
Mam's face hidden behind her black veil.
The worn black Italian leather case bounces,
surface blotched with dampness from the jungle.
Clinking of chalice, votive glass candlesticks,
the wine bottle, the host box, 60-host capacity.
The limousine scrunches on churchyard gravel.
Businesslike, he draws out his purple silk stole.
"We'll see the old fella has a good sending off,"
he smiles as swans rise from a lake into the sky.
O'Malley fights his way through the swamp,
leeches clinging to his trunk like black ribbons,
robbed of his canoe in the Chuckwalla rapids,
on his way to convert the Los Vagos people.
Mosquitos bedevil his head, sun-bedazzling
his sight, he grows delirious: alligators chomp
and pythons slither the khaki green swamp;
he's a bipedal meal, a tasty afternoon repast.
Drags himself, or thinks he does, onto an island,
weakened as 'gators snap at his ankles and toes.
Dreams of his father dying in Sligo, skeletal hand
on counterpane, murmuring manic, drone-faced,
an old man sinking rapidly, bankrupt of will.
He caresses his hand. No, not a man's, birdlike.
The infernal rain streams the windows, gurgles
the downspout, mildews the striped wallpaper.
O'Malley's eyes blur. He recalls Da's grave,
festive with montbresia, a piss-poor memorial.
But then Da' speaks to him, young, clear,
resonant, all the wounds and cares shrugged off,
as now God soothes him: "I will make a bridge
of alligators to cross the swamp, O'Malley."
So his sandaled feet find themselves
on the first 'gator. It groans but grins,
. . . then onto the second, . . . the third, . . .
Each gurgles a protest but lets him travel on,
help him reach the dry land of the Los Vagos,
who pour flowers on him, gift him with faith.