The President, the Pope, the Pioneers and the Polygamists

For his audacity and irreverence, the depths of his passions, political and otherwise, and for the subversive inspiration that Bob has always been, here with great respect, a small offering from my most recent novel, MOTHER & CHILD.


Many of the people in the Valley wanted a white person to live in the White House. There was a simplicity to it that appealed to them. They were not interested in having a person of any other color or stripe, sullying things up.

     The People in the Valley knew enough to know what they liked and there was a simplicity to that as well. They also knew what they feared—and all around them was darkness.

     About 4 million years ago the wolf, the coyote and the jackal diverged from one another. All three have 78 chromosomes. This allows them to hybridize freely and produce fertile offspring. The golden jackal has 74 chromosomes, the red fox has 38. First crossed wolf/dog hybrids are popular in the US, but the dog retains many wolf-like traits. This the mother remembers from her Wolf Studies long ago.

     A coydog is the hybrid offspring of a male coyote and a female dog.

     The dogyote is the result of breeding a male domestic dog with a female coyote.

     Coyotes also breed with wolves, resulting in coywolves. Other breeds to have hybridized with foxes are huskies and hounds: this animal is known as a dox. The neighbor has a wonderful dox is not an unheard of thing to hear in parts of the Valley.

     Let us not forget that the wolf and the jackal can interbreed and produce fertile hybrid offspring. What is a dingo, the mother does not know, but she knows what a coy-dingo must be. If you cross a coyote with a dog you get the ferocity of the coyote with the friendliness and fearlessness of a dog--an unfortunate mix. What if you tried to pet it?

     It is thought that the Ancient Egyptians crossbred domestic dogs with jackals producing a jackal-dog that resembled the god Anubis.

     If the blacks stay black and the whites stay white it still remains possible to think clearly. There is something to be said for clarity, there is something to be said for understanding the lines. If the Jews were meant to breed with the Gentiles, God would have written it down through the prophets, the People in the Valley like to say. What if you cross a jackal with a child?

     On a death barge a mongrel in robes might float by. What if without permission, the dog-child wore a crown and began to decree.

     If you interbreed the races you are in for trouble, the People in the Valley are saying. Murky children rise up out of their dreams and walk the not so distant hills. You are left with the question when you bump into them picking flowers of what exactly they are. If you misguidedly vote one of these mixed flower people, these freaks, into public office you will only add to the National Nightmare.

     But like it or not fluidity and connections and dualities define the world now. Like it or not, forging hybrid identities is where it's at. It does not help that the Morbidity Table indicates the kind of White People we have in the Valley right now will be dying off sooner rather than not.

     The question in the Valley more and more becomes how to disable permanently the mongrel so he will not be able to run, but only hobble.

     There is a lot to consider when pondering mongrels and men. The child should hurry and graft horse-running legs onto the mongrel candidate's body. She should hurry and graft enormous white eagle wings to his back; a surgical expertise born of necessity will move into her hands. Among the species there is an aptitude for survival one can only call admirable. Winged, horse-legged, felled candidate, how are you feeling? Fine, he says. I feel great. The child and the mother and the candidate's aptitude for bouncing back are unmatched.

     If you cross a mother with a bat then what have you got? Something shining and night-loving with a sonar intelligence of the first order.

     Some things once brought into being can never be killed. Some things brought into light refuse to retreat back into the darkness. Not only that, but they obtain a lightness unlike any other thing in the world. There is a luminosity not to be believed.


The little Pope, very old, holds a glass dome and under it is a very tiny green tree. The Vatican, he explains is the only sovereign state in the world that is carbon-neutral. The ancient buildings have been outfitted with solar panels, and someone he says has donated enough trees in a Hungarian forest to nullify all carbons emitted from the Holy See. The Pope who oversees the Global Church says that he is known now as the Green Pope. It is humanity's responsibility to care for the planet. Time is short.

     As of late we have invented seven new sins, the Pope informs his audience. Number four is Polluting the Environment.

     A little dim energy-saving light bulb comes on as evening arrives. I am a steward to God's creation. I shall protect the children, both born and unborn from exposure to environmental poisons, especially the poor. And all of those who are most vulnerable. And the cats, born and unborn. The Pope loves cats. He has had he says, a life-long love of cats. He often chats to them in German at length and they follow him around fascinated by his gibberish. The Pope is lovable in his fondness for felines. The Pope says that cats are forbidden where he lives in the Apostolic Palace, and that it has been one of the biggest adjustments of all. You can see the Pope some days walking around the carbon-neutral grounds with a small ball of twine in case a cat should happen by. He meets up with them in the garden, feeds them, bandages their wounds.

     The mother hands the Pope a notebook listing one thousand boys and girls who have been injured in the Boston archdiocese alone. An Inquisition found that the Pope before he was Pope, had obstructed justice in the case of the priests who had committed the gravest of all the sins on earth. Before he was Benedict, he was Joseph, and when he was Joseph he ordered bishops should be protected by the Pontifical Secret. The sexual abuse of children is somehow allowed to be hidden by the Pontifical Secret, in something called The Obstruction. To reveal the Pontifical Secret is to risk excommunication. Until the child-victim reached eighteen years plus ten more years, the gravely sinning priests are protected by the Secret. So if you are a child of nine for instance, the offending priest gets an extra nine years until the child reaches 18, plus ten more for a total of nineteen years in all before he has to worry. By then the 9 year old is 28. Cases such as these are of a delicate and grievous sort.

     The Pope of course does not have children in the way that mothers have children. The mother wonders whether under the category of Secrets there might be a Secret Neutering Process for those in the church who harm children, and for those who protect them. Neutering is not really so bad given the magnitude of the trespass. There is a Biblical logic to the reasoning. The prim Pope blushes.

     The mother gently takes his hand and says that this way the problem of the privates might be resolved once and for all. Bunny Boy, she tells him, her cat, seems to have made his peace with it.


The Pope appears again on the tarmac of Andrews Airforce Base and is met by the War Crimes President. They are accompanied by the millions of children they have put in harm's way, both grown and ungrown, both alive and dead, and also the many who are somewhere between the two: not really dead, not really alive anymore, but in a perpetual half-state, thanks to the Supreme Power of the Men.

     Is a slow death better, or a fast one? A complete death or a partial one?

     The children are gathered a few miles deep and many, many thousands of feet high standing one atop another ad infinitum. From a bird's eye view it's all pretty awful. The Pope and the President on the tarmac walk hand in hand. How puny they are from this vantage point. The Pope, a holy man, has shuffled known perpetrators into fresh dioceses, and has put the interests of the Church above the interests of children. The President meanwhile, unprovoked, is the instigator of unimaginable violence and suffering. The red carpet is seepy and spongy with blood. The two Fathers gingerly tiptoe across it while the children trudge behind. The children's skins, peeled back by fire bombs and the lips of doughy priests, bleed easily. Who will protect them the mother wonders? The Pope has instructed the Faithful to pray in perpetuity to cleanse the Church of Predators. The children wonder who, if not he, with staff and crown and lamb and beneficent smile, will be on their side?

     The Vatican has said that every parish should designate a group of people to pray in a kind of relay for the Church to rid itself of scandal. Prayer will take place in one parish for 24 hours and then move on to another so that there might be continuous prayer. In the 14th Century to rid the world of the Black Death the Church instituted a similar policy of Perpetual Prayer.

     From the very depths of darkness the men shake hands—over the bodies of the maimed and dying or not quite dead, or the definitely dead children. The two Fathers are in a friendship trance. Even though they are quite tiny on the TV screen, and in real life they are in Washington DC, which is quite a ways away, the mother puts up her black umbrella anyway for protection. She has been made custodian on Earth of this very child and she will not let her down. Not on her watch will a raft of unbearably lonely priests take her away under the guise of the First Scrutiny or the Sanctification or Special Intentions. Not on her watch will the President remove the children in a coma on a stretcher to a place off camera where they will be left to die, counted with deepest regret as collateral damage. The soul alights strangely, and the souls of children flutter at the Andrews Airforce Base. Sometimes we sense the devil where the devil does not belong—under the Pontiff's hat, or hiding wedged in between the lines of the Constitution, that remarkably shiny document, the sleeping Congress nodding off. There might be glimpses of the devil in a wink or a pat or an embrace. A clever devil has been known to hide in a glass of golden ale, or an anthem or a cliché or a prayer--things we are almost, but not quite numb to, the devil hides there.

     There is always the threat of invasion to guard against. Every single child who has ever lived is aware of this. Those both dead and alive. And all those sentenced to Limbo: they are beautiful, but they are neither here nor there.

     The question might be, why let a fetus through if in only a few years, this is what you are going to do? The Pope does not know. The Pope is happy to confess to all he does not understand under the category the Mystery of Evil. He has also been known to attribute it to the Dark Night of the Soul, but never mind, let us meditate on the miracle of cats.

     Bunny Boy, who in a certain sense is crimeless, has lived happily enough with the Neutering Process.

     The War Crimes President has insisted that an enhanced interrogation technique called waterboarding is not torture and so…He fidgets now wondering what the mother, who has always been a problem solver, has in store.

     The Pope holds a small Frozen Charlotte and a cat and a glass dome. Under the glass dome is a little model of Vatican City. The little dome glints in the sun.

     You've got to hard-wire certain rituals into a child early; otherwise they might not take. You've got to take advantage of the Genuflect Reflex while you've got it, as it is only so long before the Genuflect Reflex dissolves into cake.

     Mother Theresa it is now known to have doubted everything. For one year she had God visions but then she never saw or felt God's presence again. Only that God was a desert. She wanted God with all the power of her soul—and yet between them there was only a terrible separation.


To eliminate the gray wolf, those going westward in the Great Western Expansion introduced mange into the wolf population. For 40 days they waited for the mange to take and then set out on their way. A wave of suffering preceded them, and a wave of suffering was left in their wake. The suffering made a sound pitched just above the hearing range of the adults, but all the girls could hear it, and it made their trips in the covered wagons excruciating. Many of the girls in this weakened condition became susceptible to cholera and other catastrophic illnesses. Perhaps it was a kindness to die they thought to themselves by the side of the road rather than endure the intolerable screeching in their ears.

     The adults forged on, having buried their girls by the side of the road, and were praised for their courage and stamina in the face of the last images of their daughters holding their ears. They continued with even greater resolve. Their girls will not have died in vain. Native plants, native animals, and finally native people were in the way of the great westward progress to Hollywood. The wolves lost fur in patches all over their bodies. Mangy wolves, without fur are susceptible to freezing to death in the winter or catching fire in the summer. Like fire however, and young girls, the gray wolf can never really be extinguished. Like fire, you cannot snuff out a girl or a wolf. But no matter, the Pioneers did not allow this to deter them. The mother and the child closed the book. The history lesson for the day lay heavy in them. What could she do, the child wondered for those children who were already dead over a hundred years?

     Much of the west, toward which they strived with such fervor and at such cost is a desert. Cities are built on sand in drought. Rivers are dammed and debilitated. Every time the child opened her history book something else like this was popping up at her. Their fevers rose to 105. The girls were covered in flat, rose-colored spots.


They rise up again now, the girls, as if out of that same place—though over a century and a half has passed. Women and children emerge from the mist on the horizon line still in pioneer dress, still emptying the bit bucket. Look, the child says, calling for the mother. Come quickly! The mother and child stand mesmerized. There before them are the girls in home-sewn, ankle length dresses, with their hair pinned up in braids, tilling small gardens, pumping water and doing chores in the shadow of an 80 foot gleaming limestone temple. Self-sufficiency is paramount, because the Apocalypse is near.

     Mothers and daughters work together on the Yearning for Zion Polygamist Ranch. What is the use, the mother wonders, of taking such good care of a girl—making her clothes by hand, feeding her only the freshest and most wholesome of foods: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, giving her fresh air, keeping her far from the cities and the fumes and the bad influences, making sure she is happy and fit-- if you are only going to hand her over to the fifty year old Fathers in the end? What is the use if you are just going to offer her up and joyfully to become a child-sister-wife?

     The women in gingham and bonnets look up curiously; they do not remember this part. What is the use of surviving on the Plains if your own mother is going to hand you over before you are grown? The child brides cannot read or write, or state the date of their births, the TV is saying. In the outside world avert your eyes they are instructed. In the outside world avoid the color red, for that color is reserved for Jesus Christ who will return to the Earth wearing red robes one day. The mother shuts off the TV. Enough, she says.

     In the Great Girl Giveaway, the Indian girl, Little Bird, was taken by an opposing tribe where she was turned into a slave and named Sacajawea and that tribe when the time came was all too happy to sell her to a Canadian fur trader three times her age, as a wife.

     Enough, the mother says, but at night the girls follow them into sleep. On the Polygamist Ranch the men take girl children as brides and so the girls know it is only a matter of time. Where are the mothers when they are needed? One of the girls dreams of introducing mange into the Father Population. When the fathers come near, too sunburned and with patchy fur, they howl in the dirt. There is a resourcefulness to girls in trouble, the child thinks to herself.

     The child says that she has seen the girls staring into the soup pots in a daze, dreaming, like all girls, of their futures. Once the soup is evaporated, they will meet their husbands, so it becomes the child's job to provide a constant source of soup for the girls so that the pot will never be gone. The mother marvels at the miracle of the child: her poise, her good sense, her intelligence, her resourcefulness, her beauty.


Carole Maso's novels include Ghost Dance, The Art Lover, AVA, The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, and Defiance. She has also published Aureole (short fictions), Break Every Rule (essays), The Room Lit by Roses (a journal of pregnancy and birth) and Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo. She is a Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University.