His Last Supper, A Triptych on “Dining Out” by Jacob Lawrence

Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.

But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”

—Mark 2, 18-20

1)

Remember the sorry-shaped bridegroom? Dizzy
from this day, the drinks,
the jagged, jilt-edged pattern of his life? Maybe he thinks
no one’s watching, that no one will see
him slumped over the whisky
after the wine, his first in a long time: it goes straight to his head, sinks
him like a shot to the temple, a friend’s betrayal, his mother’s disapproval. He thinks
no one is watching, but he’s wrong: she

is always watching, always there with a head shake, her shocked
face, a frown, following
him around, house to corner to church to school and back, and she remembers
everything. He lost her in the service, for good, he’d hoped,
but home at last, hair clipped, pants crisp, there she sat dressed up and waiting,
with her string of pearls, her string of you-can-do-betters

2)

Pearls of wisdom strung on lines like for better,
for worse, like rest-in-peace—the commonplace, the comfortable,
married to the profound; they want it all,
his flock: the brides and grooms, along with their mothers
and grandmothers, who ought to know better.
They want their minister to tell
them that every story has the same happy end: babies who’ll
grow up and marry, a chicken on the forever platter,

but this meal, he suspects, portends fast,
not feast, a last gathering, not release.
Prepare for the worst—anticipate loss,
he advises the fool to his left.
Stop making a spectacle out of yourself, at least.
We all want a job, a better life. Marriage isn’t paradise.

3)

He wants a job, a wife, some sense of design, paradise,
and worse: someone sitting around the holiday
table has betrayed him. They
go eyes wide when he talks out, act all-over surprised,
but please, not one of these friendly spies
could ever keep still, no matter how he tries to say,
hush. And they know, they know
who figures to turn, and this meal, the drinks, all lies—

just a way to smooth things over with each other. Which is why
he puts his glass down, his head down, and starts, in spite
of himself, to cry. But they’re wrong. When he leaves the room,
no one will fill the gap. They’ll remember every
gesture, every lost chance, every ill-placed
glance and sharp-shaped word. They’ll remember the bridegroom.

 

Note on the Poem
To view an image of Jacob Lawrence’s painting Dining Out online, visit the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art website here.