There is, I know, a science of separation
In night’s disheveled elegies, stifled laments,
The clockwork oxen jaws, the tense anticipation
As the city’s vigil nears its sun and end.
I honor the natural ritual of the rooster’s cry,
The moment when, red-eyed from weeping, sleepless
Once again, someone hoists the journey’s burden,
And to weep and to sing become the same quicksilver verb.
But who can prophesy in the word good-bye
The abyss of loss into which we fall;
Or what, when the dawn fires burn in the Acropolis,
The rooster’s rusty clamor means for us;
Or why, when some new life floods the cut sky,
And the barn-warm oxen slowly eat each instant,
The rooster, harbinger of the one true life,
Beats his blazing wings on the city wall?
I love the calm and custom of quick fingers weaving,
The shuttle’s buzz and hum, the spindle’s bees.
And look — arriving or leaving, spun from down,
Some barefoot Delia barely touching the ground …
What rot has reached the very root of us
That we should have no language for our praise?
What is, was; what was, will be again; and our whole lives’
Sweetness lies in these meetings that we recognize.
Soothsayer, truth-sayer, morning’s mortal girl,
Lose your gaze again in the melting wax
That whitens and tightens like the stretched pelt of a
And find the fates that will in time find us.
In clashes of bronze, flashes of consciousness,
Men live, called and pulled by a world of shades.
But women — all fluent spirit; piercing, pliable eye –
Wax toward one existence, and divining they die.
About this poem, Christian Wiman had this to say: “These meetings that we recognize – of them faith is made and sustained They are not so much remember as resurrected in us, little stitches of ordinary time that suddenly – a prick in the existential skin, a little dot of Being’s blood – aren’t.”
I’ve recently returned home from a long vacation, much of which spent visiting the many holy sites of England: the island of Iona, Holy Island, York, Canterbury. These places are said by many people to be “thin places”, locations where the expanse between heaven and earth is less vast and God is felt by the pilgrim to be nearer. For modern visitors, these are places which Mandelstam might say are part of the “science of separation”, where retreat from the world quickens the soul. But despite their obvious Christian pedigree and deep history, they were not for me places of Revelation as much as relics of faith’s history. In short, they did not effuse Christ. Instead, the closer proximity between God and man was more realized in the more ordinary occurrences of my trip: a generous gift, the satisfaction of a meal, or lively conversation on a car ride – what Mandelstam might call “These meetings that we recognize”. These quotidian “flashes of consciousness” are fleeting, but memorable, and perhaps form the stones upon which the disciple trods.