The Apple Cart Before the Horse - More Uncertain Than Socrates

The Apple Cart Before the Horse


After eight months of stuffing ideas into heads

the college teacher gets his four months off

to read, to dream, perchance to weep.

During this time teaching transforms itself

from marking essays into something else:

the world of ideas no longer seems like a classroom

with four walls and long lines of fluorescent tubes

but the very zeitgeist of the sun

with Apollo himself (dressed in Socratic robe)

pulling light downward into the cylindrical bodies

down from the heavens


Crisp as the Doric sun comes Thought

lifting the bored eyes

from the tedium of the medium of the present age

now burnt with solar precision

as if a magnifying glass had set fire to that exact spot

where kindling sparks from a dull desire

and students are reborn as deities

Be ye therefore as gods

and the hall of learning explodes in apocalyptic reverie

and the heavens meet the sea

and in Eden there's a dryad perched

on an apple tree


With rested eyes he sees the lavish gifts: disciples praise

eyes brimming with thankful tears

and a cartload of gleaming apples,

Macintosh apples beaming in his Scottish soul


He takes the top one and bites into it

as it perches on Mount Seymour covered in a caramel coating

like the latte that glides down his throat in this café

as he reads through the day

watching the world work

and walk and honk and smirk

but he's reading about Dante

and thinking about how he'll raise them all

from this world of dirt to the Heavens above

clinging to Beatrice’s skirt


During these four months he forgets what it'll be like

in the second month of the coming term

where he’ll chew through the delicious pulp

to the spongy worm



More Uncertain than Socrates


Later in your teaching career

(long passed youth and university

where you explored with the expectation that you'd discover)

you discover that you know almost nothing

and the more you learn

and the larger you understand the universe to be

the smaller becomes that part of you that knew

till it becomes a particle

in the Heisenberg physics of uncertainty

and then you find yourself in front of a classroom

trying to explain Camus to a field of young faces

like poppies blowing in the wind on a July morning

row on row

for the only thing you can think about is death

and how Marvell was right, the grave’s a fine and private place

but none I think do there embrace

and the only thing you can tell them with honesty

is that you have some statements and some reasons

but no Answer

only overwhelming questions

and a wariness of the capitalized Answer

or any capital letter that isn't a proper noun

in a title, or placed at the start of a sentence


If all you have to do is

then we would have done that already;

love is the finest thing

but it isn't the only thing;

and if All we need to do

is place more specimens beneath the microscope

then we would have seen the truth by now


So you give up writing words like hierophany 

or Age of Enlightenment on the blackboard 

and you talk instead of Heraclitus and unraveling

and of the million visions and revisions

and telescopes and microscopes yet to come

and of freedom of inquiry

and of the beauty and the angst

of disillusionment


Also, on occasion

you talk of one other thing

which is no thing at all:

the Daoist path

which is no path at all

but is worn by the steps you take

and the wry enjoyment you take in covering them up

with maple leaves and cherry blossoms

and in pretending that you barely exist



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