Saturday, April 9, 2011


I wrote this shortly after visiting Ireland in 2008. Specifically Trinity College and the Book of Kells. While that artifact contains only the four gospels of the Christian New Testament, here I imagine a similar artist at work on an older text.


Every morning, rekindling the fire,
   washing his hands and face
      in the basin of icy water,
   gathering his parchments, Leviticus
      illuminations from the night before,
   trimming the wick on his candle,

   he slips over his head
his habit
   for a moment, he is engulfed—
   sounds, muffled—
the world stops, for a moment
   just before his head rises above the collar—
   his head, curving upward, throwing back the hood

Now, his real life begins

He begins by cultivating
   sweet peas, potatoes,
      marrow,    tenderly
tending the lambs in the pasture

the curling vines of the sweet pea,
the lambs, finding patches of clover
      to rest, have, hold.

He remembers,     later in his study,
the soft wool of the lambs,
the habit-forming scent
   of wind,
in the material.

He lifts his brush,
   sodden blue,
to the golden parchment—
   carefully, intentionally,
   fills Aaron’s robe
      with the texture of fine-spun wool.

The Kohen, for his part,
knew the scent of wool
well     he knew the drowning heaviness,
the glory
of the habit he wore.

Rising early to start the fire,
   wash, habitually, in the basin,
      tending carefully to the code—
cultivating a life
   of sacrifice.

The lamb, who gave the robe,
given on the altar,
   ascending fragrance,
lifted above the priest,
   above the people,
      above the cloudy sky.

Atom by atom floating
   through centuries,
      over changes in landmass,
         migrations, empires,
   shared with all people,
      rebuilding itself,
finding its habitation in silk
            spun from a lowly creature

   a new

(c) Sarah Shaffer 2008 All rights reserved

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