Two Days Before Ash
Wednesday, I Read Charles Wright in the Moonlight
March 29. Tonight, like last night,
the new waning moon, like a blood-shot eye,
hangs in the limbs of the red oak,
keeps its moody vigil, keeps,
as my grandmother Anna would say,
The night before my grandmother died, I spelled my mother
at the hospital, sat bedside, held her mother’s hand, pale
and dry, traced with a fingertip the veins
some eighty-five years had raised,
spoke without speaking,
heard without hearing, her first ragged breaths
of shallow sleep.
Mark would have us believe that on this day,
Jesus cursed the fig tree, its barren branches,
fruitless limbs, that it did as it was bid, withered
and died. Speak to me, Micah, that I may, one day
sit beneath my fig tree, fruit or no fruit,
Heaven’s eel, Charles, heaven’s eel with its sharp
teeth, long and slick,
gliding along beneath the surface
of the sky’s bottomless pool, unseen, unmistakably
there, oh yes, there beneath the surface,
where all our ragged breaths
descend and settle.
I’d been reading from Charles Wright’s Caribou off and on for a couple of days—that and the Book of Mark as I followed his account of what Jesus had been up to in the days before Golgotha. The night I started this poem I’d been sitting out back, on the porch, string lights swaying some in the wind, when I noticed the moon, one night after full, looming in the neighbor’s oak. A passage from Mark came to mind and all at once I saw in the fingers of the red oak the barren limbs of the fig tree, the raised veins of my own hands, then my mother’s, then her mother’s, remembered the last line from “Heaven’s Eel”—“The eel’s world is not your world,/but will be soon enough”—and started writing.
Jonas Holdeman is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Middle Tennessee State University. His poem, “Stern Sonnet,” which was published in Great River Review, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010. He received his MFA degree in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University.