“The Decay of ancient knowledge”

      “considering that by such trade and entercourse, all things heretofore     
      uknowne, might have come to light.”
                       —Pliny the Elder

To cure a child of rickets, split a living
ash tree down its length and pass
the child through
        (naked, headfirst, three times).
Seal the two halves of the tree back up
and bind them with loam and black
thread. If the tree heals, so will the child.
        (The child must also be washed
        for three mornings in the dew
                       of the chosen tree.)
Two men
        (no, women)
            must pass the child through.
The first must say, “The Lord receives,”
and the second say, “The Lord gives.”
This is how you ensure a happy marriage:
This is how you keep the engine running:
A jackdaw or swallow that flies down
the chimney must be
                        killed. If it is allowed
to leave the house by a window or door,
a member of the family will
This is how, when your mother tells
you she’s going in for biopsy, to make
the growth benign:
Burn a fire and in the morning examine
the ashes for footprints, the image of a ring,
the likeness of a cat, a bed, a horse, a
This is how you keep from thinking of
the one thought you’re thinking:
Say your own name backwards three
(no four) times and turn around (keep
your eyes shut).

The unborn child must be called pot lid
or tea kettle until you hear its voice.
Carry a live bat around the house three
times, then nail it upside down outside
the window. This will ensure
If your mother calls you at 6 A.M. while
she eats her breakfast (do not eat after
7), this is how you can calm your voice:
This is how you say Good luck and mean
An egg laid on Sunday can be placed
on the roof to ward of fire and lightning.
If you put a stillborn child in an open
grave, the man who is buried there will
have a ticket straight to heaven.
Never sleep with your feet toward the door.
Do not sneeze while making a bed.
Step on a beetle, and it will rain. Bury it
alive in the earth for good weather. Put it
in your mouth and your loved ones will
When you see a dead bird lying in the road
you must spit on it.
If a rooster crows in the night, you must
go and feel his feet.
When a woman is in labor, all the locks
in the house must be undone, windows
and doors must be left ajar. This will
not prevent death but will quicken
the escape of the spirit if
If the ash tree remedy fails, bring the child
to a third
        (no, seventh)
                        generation blacksmith.
The child must first be bathed
in the water trough, then laid on the anvil.
Each of the smith’s tool’s must be passed
over the body, and each time one must
inquire what the tool is used for (no one
must answer). Then the blacksmith must
raise his hammer and bring it down (gently)
three times (four) on the child’s body.
                        If a fee is given
or even asked for, the cure will not
If the phone rings, this is how you answer:
This is how you say, How did it go?

Nick Lantz, “‘The Decay of ancient knowledge’” from We Don’t Know We Don’t Know. Copyright © 2010 by Nick Lantz. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org
Source: We Don't Know We Don't Know (Graywolf Press, 2010)
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