Socrates Poem By Peter Johnson

Socrates Poem By Peter Johnson

Ah, the glory that was Greece!….excrement in the street and houses without windows. I wanted to teach
you about Truth, which began as an idea rubbing its jaw against a rock but ended up too tiny to shed its
skin. Gnothi seauton! (Know Thyself!) What a laugh! “Good means intelligent.” “Virtue means wisdom.”
And what of Socrates? The bugger had a booger in his nose the first time we saw him; still they followed
him, happy as hoplites. He seduced you, too, with endless questions, scraps of reasoning. Then the
Games—the agora looking like a homecoming weekend for dead philosophers, everyone talking in riddles.
“Come home with your father, “ I said, and you answered, “What is father?” “Stop the nonsense,” I
ordered, and you asked, “What is its essential quality?” So I challenged Socrates to a wrestling match,
but you took his place. Father and son. Mano a mano. What a testicular idea!….I’m leaning on a cypress,
dressed in a loincloth, anointed with olive oil and dusted with white powder, my love handles and skinny
legs a nightmare for any self-respecting bronze mirror. I’m led to a muddy pit, where you’re squatting, all
lathered and powdered like me. Lots of slapping, pushing, and sliding until I’m disqualified for,
face-biting. On my knees, blinded by a noonday sun, I’m barely able to,  spy Socrates as he approaches.
“There’s the story about a father,” he laughs, “who swore he’d remain on earth as long as one son had need
of him. Two days later, they found him hanging from an olive tree with an empty wine flask over his head.”

Peter Johnson
first published in The American Poetry Review, vol. 30, no. 5, September/October 2001
also from Miracles and Mortifications

Socrates Poem By Peter Johnson

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