A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
The jail, stone grey, with a crude bowl of olives.
Disciples in a circle at his feet.
Even the guards listened in
as he taught his eternal lesson,
how to live like a moral human. Politics
back then—as now—rampant, wretched corruption,
a den of sociopaths in sheep’s clothing.
Off in the pastures, sheep brayed, bumped
bodies together to follow their leader.
The men who gathered around him were young—
which is what galled the elders who brayed
at the trumped-up trial then gave him the option of exile.
But known as the “Gadfly of Athens,” he would choose
not to travel to Sparta or Argos or Thebes. Instead
Spirit whispered, Lie down now. Here is your home
and here is your chalice with hemlock leaves.
Like a strangler ruptures the breath,
as muscles contract, the poison
will climb up your bones. After that—
you’ll be home. And over the hours
a green venom rose from the soles
of his feet to finally take hold in his chest,
when he whispered to Crito,
“I owe a cock to Asclepius—” Those last
sacramental words offered up
to the healing god. It is written—
and Plato is subtle—
even the jailers wept
as they lifted the linen sheet
over Socrates’ head. Outside,
the sky sank with the heft of the rain.
Up in the hills, sheep huddled together,
hungry and wet.
From The Impossible by Deborah DeNicola (Kelsay 2021). Copyright 2021. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.
The Death of Socrates, Jacques Louis David