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  • Quae Nocent Saepe Docent, and Notes on the Oracle
  • Ross White (bio)

Quae Nocent Saepe Docent

My bow-legs crossed, I sat before someone I thought the great teacher. His whole body a fist, he said, “Pain is the great teacher.”

As sun rejects moon, as water rejects fire, one must reject a notion first if one is ever to embrace it. The flower of denial, perhaps, the great teacher?

I wandered the museums of terra cotta soldiers and the mansions of silence. I asked the ronin where I might find the great teacher.

I sent my dream-self to the rounded hovels at the edge of imagination. I asked all the creatures in the dreaming where I might find the great teacher.

I learned to see the world through the eye of a needle, to shape sticks, to sing mourning songs. I thought myself the envy of the great teacher.

But stone grew around my feet, and held me fast as I became stone. Then I believed for some years that humility was the great teacher.

In autumn evening, the outline of a woman broke the purple horizon. She looked at me with such pity, and asked if I had found the great teacher.

My ruin forgotten, I thawed. I built us a canoe, I painted figurines of ronin as gifts. Her delight was rose-petal. I abandoned my search for the great teacher.

One cannot know incompletion until completed. Newly in love, what need had I for the counsel of the great teacher?

It never occurred to me that I might undress my beloved and discover the white blooms of scar across her back, shadows of the great teacher. [End Page 119]

Notes on the Oracle

Who was the Oracle before the tremors, before the rupture of the future into her mind’s eye? Was she still a child when she began seeing the drowning man, the hanging man, the man split through the sternum by lance, the burning bodies at the mouth of a cave? And if so, how does a child return after such seeing to the world of childish things, to dolls made of sticks and a bit of hay?

Divination by chicken gizzards. Divination by the throat of a lamb. Divination by a stone in water. By a wand swung low, by a willow rod, by a forked tongue, by an eye on sunset, by blood from a goat, by coin in a fountain, by buried strands of hair.

If we did not want so badly to believe we have a future, we would not bring the sacrifice required for someone else to see it.

Prophets on hilltops, cloistered in huts, scrying in sands on smooth marble tabletops.

Gods in their best human disguises, running through wildernesses with fawns. [End Page 120]

The merchant woman in the village who reads tarot cards, but deals only the hanged man, who gazes at the crystal, but sees only haze.

Bring coin to any. Any will tell you what you want to hear. And still the news is never good.

Divination by onomancy, by oneiromancy, divination by runecasting, burning writing onto bark, tracing the ridges in breastbone, augury, kaballah, patterns in wax, lots.

The voice of the future, however imperfectly worded, cleaves the listener with the baritone of authority. How possibility is a fugue but certainty is a melody which the listener, having heard just a bar or two, endlessly repeats atop the cacophony.

Beware the sacrifices beneath her temple, not for any menace they may still offer— none remains—but for the lesson: when the oracle trades flesh for a vision, she doesn’t specify an offering. Any carcass will satisfy the seeker convinced he needs to know what he will hear. A goat. A dove. Any traveler in the party.

Divination by ash from incense, divination by bamboo, divination by basins of water, by the flight paths of birds, by numbers, by navels, by pebbles, by the moles on a neck, [End Page 121] by the hook of a scapula. Divination by accidents. By the placement of the wounded in an accident. By the severity of the wounds. By the cause and site of the...


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