Fall 2003 vol 3.1
The Old Dispensation
Joseph Gastiger
SOMETIMES A DOWSER senses vibrations swim through the soft sod:not of a blind river, sinkhole, a limed cave—but from walls of a house orthe tomb of an emperor, temples which fell apart. If you dig, you'll find noproof, none of the bricks are true, none of the mildewed planks. Termitesand fire, both; some farmer hauled the stones, shepherds looted the grave.What is left, call it remanence, some force that draws the iron, tugs towardwhat used to be. Look what we throw away, dregs of the greenhouses;limp, unsold flowers and herbs run to seed too soon: alyssum, white nancy,coral bells, bleeding heart. Baltic ivy and lemon thyme, bugleweed,leopard's bane. Look what we throw away. Labeled sticks in the dirt, flats,the children we did not love. Whether knifed in Sao Paulo or crippled inCap Haitien, grim as rats, hand-to-mouth, none of ours. Thursdaymorning, a wrecker's truck peeled out ahead of me, loaded with bent tailpipes, mufflers corroded off—what a harvest of rust. Like a hill of deadsnakes or the gas masks of Prussian troops, armistice come at last. Spikedhelmets caked with mud. Autumn, remanent casualties ripen the oats ofAntwerp and Antietam. Only remnants of hair and cloth mark the oldcamps in Dakota, in Kurdistan. Let the dead bury the dead, orders thehypnotist. What about your papa? Where would he hurt you? When? Atthe bend of my knee. Through the twist of my ribs, in the crease of mypalm. In the Age of the Best We Could, trial and error, missal andscapular, Trylon and Perisphere. When the little dog laughed and thewidow of Jack Spratt would eat no lean: weren't there early signs? Possibly,in the clouds, the rhymes. Probably everywhere else. How about when aboy they'd chained up in a cellar hobbled to church, deranged—simpering,sir, I want to be a soldier like my father, in that destroyed light. Whatabout when the brittle plane carrying Amelia crossed into white noise,looping around and around out of fuel over her open sea? See what wethrow away: systole-diastole, hammer and sickle, tallith and yarmulke.Behind the greenhouses: dwarf iris, dianthus, celosia, and creeping phlox.