Hollywood & God

By Robert Polito b. 1951 Robert Polito
If only God would save me,
I would know how to hurt you.
 
If only God would save me,
I would know who to sell my soul to.
 
Anything is an autobiography,
but this is a conversation—
 
William Burroughs insisted
literature lagged 50 years behind painting,
 
thinking no doubt about abstraction, collage,
fragmentation, his cut-ups.
 
But whatever that meant (why always 50 years?), or however
he presumed to rile other writers,
 
poetry probably does lag behind any credible media theory about it—
 
so that if I put a pine tree
into a poem,
 
a grove of pine trees
and beyond them the sea,
 
you’d think it was the same tree Wordsworth put there;
instead of two obligatory centuries of nature studies, all those
 
Technicolor vistas, torch songs, couples
drifting through leaves in Salem commercials.
 
Into one life and out another,
 
the way a junkie playing a writer,
a writer playing a priest,
 
so that when I finally blurted out,
You-betrayed-me / I-wounded-you / We’re-so-unhappy
 
you assumed the burden of personal urgency,
supposed it was me speaking at the limits of my self-control
 
and not The Damned Don’t Cry,
Temptation, and Leave Her to Heaven.
 
You open your mouth and a tradition dribbles out.
 
But that’s mimesis—
 
how almost impossible to avoid mimesis,
anybody’s hardest truths prompting the most fractured constructions,
 
the way to think about God might be
to disobey God,
 
if only God’s wish to remain hidden,
 
so that if everything is an autobiography,
this is a conversion.
 
As my lives flash before me,
 
why must the yearning for God
trump all other yearnings?
 
You often hear converts confess
the drinking, his pills, her sexual addiction,
 
concealed inside them a yearning for God—
why not the other way around?
 
The admission of Jesus into your life
concealing instead the wish, say, a need
 
To be fucked senseless drunk drugged & screaming
Oh God! Oh God! on a hotel bed . . .
 
God embraces our yearnings.
 
That afternoon my father heard his diagnosis of inoperable cancer,
my aunt Barbara demanded we get him to Lourdes
 
She demanded this with a glass of vodka in her hand—
she demanded this running her fingers up and down my leg—
she demanded this before she passed out in her car—
 
In the movie of my life,
my father died
 
after I forgave him,
 
& when my secret tormentor said may the ghosts of your dreams
gnaw at your belly like a wolf under your jacket,
 
did she really want revenge,
or was she just killing time?
 
For me God is a hair shirt, or he’s nothing;
for me God is a pain in the ass;
 
that’s mimesis, again,
 
this hour I tell you things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I’ll tell you.
 
The world is a road under the wall to the church,
the world is a church, & the world is a road,
 
& the world is a stone wall.
 
Still, he wanted her the way the Cardinal wanted the Caravaggio,
& when the ill-advised possessor of the painting resisted—
one night Papal Guards searched his house.
 
Of course contraband came to light, some illegal rifles,
& when the ill-advised possessor of the painting went to prison—
the Cardinal got his Caravaggio.
 
But I wasn’t a Cardinal, nephew to the Pope,
and you—
you were not a Caravaggio.
 
So I asked you to be in my movie.

Robert Polito, "Hollywood & God" from Hollywood & God. Copyright © 2009 by Robert Polito.  Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.

Source: Hollywood & God (University of Chicago Press, )

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Robert Polito b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Life Choices, Sorrow & Grieving, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Religion, God & the Divine, Arts & Sciences, Photography & Film

 Robert  Polito

Biography

Poet and scholar Robert Polito was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He earned his PhD from Harvard and has served as director of Creative Writing at The New School for two decades. Polito became the second president of the Poetry Foundation in July 2013.

Polito’s collections of poetry include Hollywood & God (2009) and Doubles (1995). His poetry blends narrative and lyric impulses, drawing on both American pop culture and literary . . .

Continue reading this biography

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.