Psalm 21

People keep small statues of them
A clay one sits on the filing cabinet in my office
My wife has a fluffy one she hangs on the Christmas tree
I know a man who changed his name so we can think of them

If only they knew
If only they’d been there

That ever-so-ordinary night
When out of primordial darkness it flew
To clamp its elemental claws to my shattered chest
& gaze unblinking into shocked eyes

If only they knew
If only they’d been there

The incisive strike
The implacable grip
The invincible stare
The sheer otherness

If only they knew
If only they’d been there

A world religion would be born
A name cut from dictionaries
An image barred
A word not spoken

If only they knew
If only they’d been there

The burgeoning night
The catastrophic grace
The irrefutable call
The trumpeting ground

 

Kevin Moran, Wanaka, 31/4/10

Whakapapa: I wrote this after reading some lines from a poem by Gabriel Rosenstock. “Like an owl you come to me/spectrally/ nightly/tearing at me.” The lines reminded me of a dream I had about 10 years ago in which ‘a large owl thudded suddenly onto my chest, its eyes staring straight into my own.’ The dream took but a moment & I woke immediately, shocked. I had experienced the numinous, or more precisely the mysterium tremendum. The term numinous was popularised by the German theologian Rudolf Otto. According to Otto “the numinous experience has two aspects: mysterium tremendum, which is the tendency to invoke fear and trembling; and mysterium fascinans, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel. The numinous experience also has a personal quality to it, in that the person feels to be in communion with a wholly other.” (Quoted Wikipedia) There was certainly something utterly other, something of a completely different order about this owl. It felt like a visitation. I’ve wanted to write a poem about it for some time. People often talk & write about an experience of the Divine as being loving, gentle, kind etc. It can be, but not always.

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