03 May 2009

LotS: I never understood Aquinas

[McDonald's fries container, printed paper]

I never understood Aquinas

I never understood Aquinas
until, reading Dante, I met him
in the laser light show of Paradise,
explaining why he was not wrong
in saying Solomon surpassed all
mortals in wisdom—for wise Christ
himself was mortal for a time, running
thirty-three laps with us before riding out
on the breath of Heaven. The explanation
is unimportant, just Thom’s usual
didactic hedging—"one can be wise
in two ways"—dressed up in terza rima,
a three-strand necklace to brighten the cowl
of a robe black and white as his world.
Here in Heaven, surrounded by God’s glory
like a cloud of pot smoke in a dorm room,
Aquinas resists intoxication and stays
as grounded as his flashbulb soul can be.
Dante and I just smile and keep ascending.

I like to imagine the philosophers at a party,
one of those wine-dark shindigs one sees in Homer.
While Thomas hovers by the spinach puffs, Plato
stakes out his corner early: he knows who
will end up on whose couch, and drinks and jibes
while Dawn, her fingers ketchup-stained,
steals his fries. Aristotle, across the room,
is demonstrating the motion of the spheres
with toothpicks and Dixie cups; his audience
keeps looking around for someone else they know—
"Hey, Xenophon! It’s been a long time, dokei emoige."
Plato holds sarcasm, irony, double entendre
like three aces in a poker hand, while Aristotle
organizes lowest to highest, spades to hearts,
and takes his values from the faces of his kings.
He doesn’t get the jokes.

Aquinas so revered Aristotle he called him The
Philosopher, and spent his life in scribbling
the organization of the deck God dealt,
finding the suits in sin and salvation, on
thousands of pages: the names of God,
the will of God, the eternal Law, in handy
Q&A format, every objection thought out
and blocked beforehand, a quote from Scripture
or the saints unrolling thin as latex between pagan
logic and his own. He’s a bitch to read.

Faith lives in me where logic only visists.
God is gut and the spider on the ceiling.
So I hated Aquinas till I saw him in Heaven,
glowing like a nightlight, discoursing on things
he should know by now don’t matter.
And then I understood. I saw him at the party,
bearing the yoke of being big and looking dumb.
He didn’t get the jokes either.

[Winner, 2002 Walter S. Baird Endowment Prize for Achievement in Fine Arts, St. John's College.]

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