Can we picture the major monuments of our lives as the forgotten fragments of a culture that has ostensibly disappeared? For example, imagine the famed Mount Rushmore with the faces so eroded with time that Abraham Lincoln’s nose looks as if it were smashed into cauliflower in a wrestling match. Imagine the names on the Vietnam memorial faded and buried in centuries of silt and debris. Imagine the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as it may appear to future generations: a massive melted- down umlaut or an accent circonflex over a desolate terrain…
And, just for the sake of localism (my own localism), try to picture the Bulldog statue outside of McCarthy stadium on the campus of Gonzaga University, home of Zags B-ball–not to mention a great Jesuit school of higher learning, etcetera… I mention this collegiate icon, not because of the team’s NCAA ranking, and not because its shape or substance compares to the aforementioned marvels of historical architecture, but because, if there happened to be a huge catastrophe and if Spokane, Washington became a distant memory, that Bulldog, known now as “Spike” to the alumnae, would not even be known. In fact, a society that has devolved may regard the statue as some sort of deity… or maybe a petrified species of canine that we hunted to extinction like the sabertooth tiger. And isn’t that terribly sad?
And if you think that Gonzaga and other prominent universities are exempt from such lapses in cultural memory… that surely some narrative will be passed down from admissions office to admissions office through the brute, indifferent centuries, well, I think you’re fooling yourself. You may even be guilty of Gonzaga-centrism!
But, learn the lesson of Gilgamesh…
According to the Norton Anthology of Western Literature, the epic tale of Gilgamesh had once thoroughly saturated the Akkadian/Assyrian world view. Nearly every corner and every curb of every street had an allusion to the tale of Enkidu, the wild man, and Utanapishtim, the demigod, and of course the G-man, who bounced in between them… The story, of course, is a story of human nature, a narrative of a human being who aspires to greatness and ends up dealing with loss and mortality. Gilgamesh, like the narrative of nearly every basketball program, had been told and re-told orally for years… And then the Mesopotamian PR department got involved and started carving the legend on clay tablets. It related the events of Great Flood, long before Noah and his family moved into the neighborhood. It observed the construction of the great city of Uruk and the slaying of a giant. It rehearsed, as we often do, the mystery of creation and worried about the on-going chaos that keeps erupting through the surface of suburban Ninevah.
“Only in 1844 were the ruins of the palaces and library uncovered through chance excavation, and thousands of tablets in cuneiform–a language that would not be deciphered until 1857–shipped to the British Museum…” (p. 15).
And so, Gonzaga… You got a taste of that same thing last week. Last week, we learned from renovations on campus about a wall-sized mural that had been commissioned and crafted in the 1960’s. Richard Ingalls, a former art instructor at the institution, was responsible for the work, which detailed imagistically the rich history of the Jesuits’ early connections with the indigenous people along the river. It’s a dubious tale for sure. But the mosaic, made from small pieces of ceramic glass, had been covered over in the 1990’s to make way for a Taco Bell… That’s right. And you can see how easily the cultural amnesia creeps in. A humble librarian had apparently been among the parsimonious people who recalled the existence of this picture-story; and for now it will be preserved. For now it will be reverenced.
For now… but the semesters of time are upon us, and bright minds still grow dim, and dimmer still. (Many of them have tenure!)
Be Still, the Affliction Said
Be still, the affliction said.
It spread in oozing boils.
It spread by leafy oil
until I died. And in the afterlife
I took a butcher knife
to skinless ecstasy.
I peeled back leprosy
and soaked in my gout
an itch that’s spiking
has anyone been hiking,
truly, through oblivion?
I envy the Epicurean
with a lush view.
Contagions come to you
with their California rides,
and with vines that elide
the centipedes on the crotch.
Shall we slough off that blotch
of little landscaped red?
Be still, the affliction said.
The Burr in theCamouflage
A burr penetrates
the perimeter, having latched onto Virgil’s hunting jacket.
Last Friday while
he traipsed through a Palouse hedgerow the bristle first clung
amid camouflage fibers,
the seminar in progress.
No one spotted it but Willamina who sat nearest in the pew and who
told him a thousand
times to watch wearing to church the clothing he’d always torn shooting
those starlings, which
never harmed a soul and tasted too gamey for stew. Virgil never felt shame
when it came to burrs,
rapt as he was with being raptured away. And here he’d just bought those new
soft-mouthed bitches and
none of ‘em trained to suit post-tribulation pagans, who wouldn’t know the second
of Christ coming if it’d swoop
down vulture-like upon road kill… and who wouldn’t know they wouldn’t know, even
that there is a thing to know…
And that’s the point! He’s seen this timeline before. It’s the banner he hung himself from the loft
where the soloist sits on Sundays.
Plus, Willa will never let up about the burr, which is now lost amid the earth tones of her frock.
What happens to things so
ignored? Are they found in the Lord… or simply flicked away as by the Father’s tensive
he’s not counting after all
the birds, hairs and lilies that fall. And with regard to that burr, will the prophesy