The Moss of the Danube School

Jennifer Nelson



To speak here of a reflection of material conditions in the ideal superstructure would be patent nonsense.

recurring dreams should mean something haunts me
I was trying to identify the two men standing
in the background of Holbein’s
Noli me tangere
a younger man guides an older man
who reaches in the composition
beneath where the Magdalene reaches for Christ
not as thwartedly as she
probably in another time
and testament
I saw our hands touching like the gloved
hand of the gambling
woman in 2046
black lace against a slit-gowned hip
I told you not much haunts me
Dürer’s hands in the Thyssen-Bornemisza’s
Christ among the Elders: the elders
stand in the dark
not much history around
a hat with Hebrew letters on the side
but in the center
two gnarling hands and two
hands of the youthful Christ
I’m overfull
because I see these four hands over and over
what could Holbein’s younger man
deny his lover
or his father, indicating
a long road to the city below
while to the right the cloven
toe of one angel
inside Christ’s tomb
the angel has daintily exposed
strange angelic part
in Queens a thunder
of public transportation
and a fountain nearby that sounds like rain
do not touch
I collected all the images I could find before the internet
became a database occasion
of Noli me tangere
Titian, Fra Angelico
even Correggio in the year 2000
not Holbein
it’s a kind of ugly painting
got something of his father’s
German dollface on Christ and something
proto-pan-European in
the drapery and space
I got it in an email from London
the day after I willed
my hand grazing yours
let it happen then I turned it
and grabbed yours and eventually
you took yours away
Holbein was really careful too
even the trees in his Noli aren’t parallel
and definitely none of the legs or arms
not the old man’s staff
there are too many crosses for a convincing
Golgotha and the foreground
lawn recedes too well
a blade of grass over Christ’s good toe
there’s no wind in the foreground but where the old man reaches
the wind blows behind him his two-toned cape
yellow and white
color of Easter trumpets
the wind
blows the youth’s thin hair into mountains
and everything distant, the city
has thinned itself
in the copy I got via email
it’s hard to tell if the white overall
is damage or varnish
I’ll go with varnish
archaeology is easier than addition
if you believe in getting things right
there are many textures of gray in this rain
Cézanne liked to relate himself to Moses
shown the promised land
and never permitted
now for Moses, never permitted
the trees remember the moss in Germany


(This poem is from the series “Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism [trans. Talcott Parsons]”)


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