Pre-Socratics

November 21, 2009

Surely mankind’s greatest invention is the sentence.

—John Banville

Since Aristophanes and Socrates

Are talking poetry—with the gods’ blessing—

With a whisper about a parchment—call

It a ‘sur-fact’, a secret, or maybe

A surface—just a simple white canvas,

Really, a talented tabula rasa,

A prime mover—prima facie—the desert.

Say poetry is like that too, just before—

Before the spacial silence like

—like, it’s like the desert—

And then when rain begins—a kind of Brain

Rain—it draws the oil up, surfaces it,

So it’s slick, the mind is, his daemon. Still…

*

The lamps are lit, so Socrates can see

That Aristophanes is pouring his

Particular oil into open ears,

Into everyone’s evening ears and eyes.

And Aristophanes goes for the joke too.

He farts. Real funny. He farts and pretends

It’s a hiccup out the wrong end. Stand on

Your head, why don’t you, Aristophanes?

…For its Aristophanes

Who is about to give an encomium

To Eros. Too sophisticated

To offer praise for a dead god, he

Will spin a tale of sun and earth and moon,

Of round bodies and moieties in search

Of themselves—this same Aristophanes

Is stinking up the stage right now…

*

So Socrates can smile and finally laugh.

It is as if he’s finally free, and in

This freedom he can sense that since

The gods can’t be persons, Eros must be

A shorthand for something else, for Eros,

Made of many minds, cannot not exist—

At least not this Artifice of Eros,

As plain as parchment, bright white and wet when

It rains. So Aristophanes, his oil,

So Socrates, his solitude, together

In encomium—in formation

Of the god, the goddess of love, the two.

*

But Aristophanes is puzzled by

These two fold tales. When death is not surpassed,

The momentary and the monumental

Remain. Repeat: When death is not surpassed,

The momentary and the monumental

Remain. Thus, the Eros-of-Now remains;

The Eros-of-Eternity…yes, yes,

By definition, if He or She exists

At all—like math, like the Good, like Beauty—

Something always is there—but poetry

Forced in our mouths, minds—both behemoth,

Beyond our beliefs, shivering beneath

The skin, a half-truth in a no-truth world,

And puny innocence so fragile that

The fragrance of a grape might destroy it

—a single grape, mind you, forced on you…

*

Or so it seems. For Aristophanes,

Most musts must reside inside of mustard seeds…

Say that twice.

But things are that simple sometimes.

As he enters Agathon’s pavilion,

He wonders what ethics has to do with

Beauty. It’s seeds. There’s your answer—

For ethics are like seeds to beauty,

Like grapes that lead to wine,

Like grapes that lead to raisins.

*

But poetry is forced into our mouths

And minds, too—like the wine and like those raisins—

For the Beautiful should reign in both—

So Socrates stops—again—still outside

The bright confines of Agathon’s party,

Still part of an immense colloquy,

Contra the sun, and rain, contra the dry

Parched earth, all stacked as one, all stacked

Against his passage from stillness, from Eros

And love, all stacked against his desire

And lack of desire…

*

But we can stop too, and look at ourselves

As Socrates—like Socrates—and see

Him like a progression of the sun

Against the setting of the sun, the psalms

Of innocence versus the songs

Experience sings—grape, rain, wine, raisin,

Reason—the sun’s sunlight tempered by earth’s

Seasons, its rotation around the sun,

Its shadow of air, water from the sky,

—amazing suspense: gravity with grace—

And brought to final fruition in that grape,

That grain, that pod, the fruit and seeds, the grass

Grown and sheltered amid the rocks

And trees— enough to keep the gods in harness,

Enough to keep the fires burning, sending

The sun back to the sun, enough to keep

Both Socrates and Alcibiades,

Who will join us later, suspended in

The poetry we all will someday write…

*

Will write someday, that is, on the dry skin,

On the parchment that is at last preserved.

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