Possum Hour Gospel

Rasp of fingernail against the cold clasp of ice upon a gas tank door—
been broke often enough to give thanks
for a couple bucks for the tank, even this early in the day,
predawn after a sleepless night, almost-morning in which each person is fitted

to a little fog of breath, & wanders a landscape
that was only a few months ago
………………………………………………….a paradiso of blooming thistle & loosestrife,
clover & tiger lilies in every ditch. And though no one’s asking,
I hear again the unanswerable
my father’s mother asked me once—
where is God in the long hours of the night?
And knew what she meant: those faceless
hours between midnight & dawn—
& knew, because I’m often up then,
…………………………………………………………in that thinly populated country
of silence—knew it well, as she did,
who will not wake again, who, if she walked
beside me now, would cast,
…………………………………………….like Virgil in the underworld,
no shadow. I know those long hours are too often
behind a cash register, or at the lathe or press—

I sometimes felt like a shadow at the plant,
standing before the steel coils (that weighed more than my car)
that I would cut at the shears,
……………………………………………….lengths I would lay in the jaws of the press brake
to bring down ten tons of hydraulic pressure—
hours I recall each time I see a fender on an eighteen wheeler.

I have no name for that period of my life,
………………………………………………………………….nor for the space-time
it took for these poems of Guido Gezelle to find me–
the years from the mid-nineteenth century to find my grandmother,
then the collapsing cities of ashes that the words travelled through
……………………………………………………………………………………………………….from Dutch to English,
then the war, an immigration across an ocean, & then the rest
of her life. How Weet gij waar de wind geboren is? must have entered her eyes
like rain blowing through a curtain

before becoming Do you know where the wind is born?
Or A wordt hier altyd al verdriet, transfigured to everything becomes sorrow here,

words still on my tongue when I return home,
………………………………………………………………………….my shadow thin as the tail
of a sundog, & it’s then I see her looking back
at me: six joeys on her back,
…………………………………………….long snout & white face arcing up to a sagittal crest—
like a trumpet vine bloom flowering back from her nose,
like a French horn that opened back into a body
………………………………………………………………………with a prehensile tail & opposable thumbs.
Opossum, from the Algonquian: wapathemwa
a German cousin of yours was on a talk show
a few years back to predict the Oscars, I say, what do you have for me,

o teach me, poor fool that I am………………… O leer my arme dwaas
the way I have to pray………………………………. hoe dat ik bidden moet

to get through the night in one piece—
later I’ll examine her thumbed oracle prints

& her teeth marks in the can of fat out back
for a clue on tomorrow, on a new moon, what lies behind

eternity, or who it holds—

but for now she shows me her teeth, & trundles off,
unperturbed by myself or what’s she done
……………………………………………………………………so far with her two-year life,
or the one in six on her back the stats say will survive,
tail pointed at heaven,
……………………………………where this early

men al die sterren ziet…………………………….. all you see are stars
al die sterren anders niet………………………… all those stars & nothing else

Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, including the Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining. His fiction and poetry appear widely, including The New Yorker, Tin House, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Cincinnati Review, and River Styx, among many others. He is presently an assistant professor at Valparaiso University.
Mark Wagenaar

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Author: Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, including the Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining. His fiction and poetry appear widely, including The New Yorker, Tin House, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Cincinnati Review, and River Styx, among many others. He is presently an assistant professor at Valparaiso University.