“Men Wept”

Thursday, December 8, 2016 - 3:59 pm

“Men Wept”

Socrates sent the women away so he could die
 without the sound of weeping. The men wept.
 In the painting by Jacques Louis David,
 Socrates sits up, points a finger skyward,
 and reaches for the hemlock cup. His wife,
 Xanthippe (I think of them as Zan and Soc)
 is in the David picture too, doing her thing
 for the scene: Being sent away.
 She is far down the hallway and last. The rest
 have turned left, headed up the steps and out.
 She looks back, like a lot of wives,
 she'd been a pillar, and also a salt tart.
 She holds up a hand goodbye.
 He's preparing to assault himself. She's younger
 than him. They have little children.
 They are likely still fucking, if we allow the phrase
 to undergo a deep devaluation while still
 meaning something. That's philosophy.
 Recall Soc's parable of us all four-legged,
 two-headed, and self-in-love? Such tenderness.
 Then think of Zan, once enrapt in great-robed
 arms, now divested. Soc told Xenophon
 he didn't fight at his trial to avoid getting old.
 From the vantage of love it seems
 wrong to be so full of exit wisdom.
 Down the hall, her palm is a twin of his hand,
 his a tweaked fist, one finger up.
 Posed like a habit but hard like a rock.
 He points to indicate a rise up to the Good,
 her hand is a presentation, like a message. Stop.
 Don't drink the hemlock. What if, instead,
 after his leg braces are off, and he has rubbed
 his leg and observed the congruence of pain
 and pleasure, but before he is offered the cup,
 what if the prison is infested with a hundred bees?
 The guard darts for the door, the menaced
 guests gasp, yelp, and flee the scene.
 Socrates is stung on the leg and when he bends
 to see it, a buzz invades his ear, he swats, runs
 out the door and home. Quiet now, he minds
 the orchards and is soon locally known for his
 figs. Back from the trees every night he finds her
 filling their glasses, squinting into the setting
 sun at the door, she raises a hand to greet him.

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is a poet, philosopher, and historian. Her books include Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, Doubt: A History, and Who Said.

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