Winter is the driest season: a fast for the land.
The last quarter of the year, dressed
like a Sabbath bride. And though
we’ve foresworn the salt cod
of old Europe, most of us, coddle
ourselves with all-beef patties or
expensive wines & huddle around
televisions, the desert still comes.
The wilderness of John & Jesus,
of Moses & Elijah & Mohammed
still comes to the door,
makes the windows rattle with
her stark visions,
her disabling prescriptions.
Come snow, & the low sun
leaves a bit of night in the sky at noon,
teases from the old, old ridges
their longest dawns. This morning
as I stand by the roadside facing west,
still scrutinizing the line of trees
where the year’s fattest moon–the one
that heralds hunger–has just
gone down, the ridge turns vermilion.
“salt cod”: traditional Lenten food for most of Western Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. (This church-mandated market for the nearly tasteless but long-storing fish of the north Atlantic, incidentally, led to the “discovery” of Newfoundland by anonymous fishermen out of Bristol, England several years before John Cabot, and thus quite possibly before 1492, according to the geographer Carl Sauer.)
“the year’s fattest moon”: I.e., the moon at perigee when perigee occurs near perihelion. “Extreme values for perigee and apogee distance occur when perigee or apogee passage occurs close to new or full Moon, and long-term extremes are in the months near to Earth’s perihelion passage (closest approach to the Sun, when the Sun’s tidal effects are strongest) in the first few days of January.” These differences are visible both in size and intensity of light. The year I wrote this, 2002, the largest moon was right at the end of February/beginning of March.
“the one that heralds hunger”: The full moon in March was referred to as the Hunger Moon by many Eastern Woodland tribes, since food stocks were at their lowest point of the year then, both for people and for many species of wildlife.