The Consolation of Philosophy



In the 6th century before the present era, there was this fellow Boethius, who was the more-or-less counterpart of today's Chief of Staff under the third of the Ostrogothic Kings that ruled Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. These years are what default historians call the Dark Ages. In a fit of suspiciousness and paranoia, the King had Boethius thrown in prison (and later executed) for being too friendly with a rival Autocrat in the East. While awaiting execution, Boethius wrote a heavily Platonic book called The Consolation of Philosophy, half prose, half poetry, in which he preaches that wisdom is a worthier pursuit than wealth, beauty, health, etc. It is possibly the first piece of prison literature in the Western world. While the detainee is lamenting his fate, he has a vision! It is a beautiful woman! It is Lady Philosophy! And together they work things out so that he is ready, when his time comes, to embrace his death. This thing was quoted and read and cited by Macrobius, Dante, Chaucer, even Tolkien. I love it. But it is also -- in my humble opinion -- just one more blathering by a male dominator for other male dominators, denigrating all things tangible and feminine in a misguided devotion to the Ultimate Topping. So, I rewrote it as a Feminist Paradise, and here it is; well, here is the first chunk of what I wrote, and hopefully I haven't flip-flopped all the way to objectification! Let me know what you think! (The whole thing is super long, and even I don't want to read it all at a stretch.)


I – I lived for desire and the language of desire

I lived for desire and the language of desire

now drab doings and ground-down words

are all the goddess sends, that and clay birds.

No Bonaparte awaits my unwashed self.

Going out, I used to know when I’d come in

and whether I’d bring an attachment.

I strum through their faces, remember the light

touch of hands, now all callous and stain.

I lived fast, enjoying even the suffering,

although I was told I shouldn’t.

I’m dying my hair, and wearing gloss.

My flesh leaves the bone. I am oldening.

I’m too healthy to die and too entrenched

in my love for my stuff and my persona,

to call it quits. But I am out of juice.

Once I had full, dark-nippled breasts

that put out streams of milk – I had a freezer-full of it

when I weaned the lamb. Now, life weans me.

Desire was one big nourishing vessel, with zigzags

like rain, that dwindles now, and the sun sets

earlier each day. Why did I so often think I was happy

when I was merely getting banged. And now

desire hates me.


I – While I worked my way

While I worked my way into this assessment, using four fingers and a thumb, backspacing, shifting my weight on the ErgoMat, I sensed the presence of another being in the room.

She looked at me and flicked her tongue towards one of the eggs her body coiled about. She arched up, and under the finger of her was an egg! She sank low and in that cup sat another egg; then up she thrust and nestled there a third; in one last scoop, she balanced the fourth and last.

The leathery membrane of the first egg was smoke-dark as if it had been living near a candle. The surface of the second was like tightly-stretched linen, but it was already ceding to the tooth of the hatchling inside. The third egg was reflective in an unnatural way, like Mylar, and on it were impaled the cacophony of my room, the colorful paintings on my walls, my Levelor shades, and the brown of the roll-top desk. The last egg was clearly origami, imprinted with various non-Western scripts and a lipstick kiss.

When she realized I was paying attention, and with no small judgment, the snake goddess drew herself and her eggs into a single dot and re-emerged as a vastly pregnant person, in the manner of a figurine from Ghelaesti-Nedeia, holding one hand on her belly and standing solidly on two short legs.

“What in the world are you doing with all this?” she shrieked, waving her free arm at my bookshelves full of poetry—friends’ skinny chapbooks, all of Anna Akhmatova, some Dacia Maraini. “No wonder you’re a mess! Poetry is the kind of poison that the more you read it, the more you start to think you’re special, that your own particular neural diversity is something to celebrate while your office-mate’s is not. You think that by reading poetry you’re halfway to writing poetry, that people who pay their attention to The Walking Dead or the relative effectiveness of the iSmile Home Teeth Whitening kit should pay attention to you instead, reader of poetry!” She concluded with a noise like blurf. At this, the many colorful covers of my books seemed to wilt, to slump, and without so much as a by your leave, struggled off their shelves (letting loose a certain quantity of dust) and glided out of the room, as if they were alive and leggy.

I myself was so taken aback, and so accustomed to muting my own emotions that all I could do was lay on the bed, on top of the covers, and feel around for my iPad. It was gone. And then I realized that the goddess had morphed once again and that she sat beside me on the bed, like the lady who visited Boethius, clothed in cloth of imperishable thread, her garment patterned wildly with triangles, lozenges, and spirals. She spoke about me as if I wasn’t even there beside her.

II – How thickly the fat coats her ears!

How thickly the fat coats her ears!

How her skin shines with sugars,

a fondant that suffocates the pudding beneath!

Only the microwaves of her devices pierce this armor.

She who once rode shirtless on a bike

has trapped herself in an internet mascot’s mold

made of 100% new materials and artificial dye.

She who loved the way that the foggy night frosted her lover’s hair

(she whose Penelope was hydrogen and helium)

hasn’t seen the stars for years and doesn’t understand the sky.

She used to have a special chair to sit on

where she sewed and made things and played

and looked mildly at others;

Her friends were every struggling stranger and outcast,

people with problems she now finds it easy to reject

(she whose Penelope was the binary Audre Lorde/Mary Daly)

because she has moved the chevron away from her throat,

its natural home after the journey up,

she has moved the chevron with her own two hands

into the bag on her back with the things she won’t let go of,

that she’ll have when the big one hits

that will go down with her on the Boeing.


II – “But,” the goddess added

“But,” the goddess added, “do you recall that billion billion billionth of a second right before everything expanded? Before there was air? Back when words were radiation? You were at your most creative then. Everything was elemental, wild, and you were too. Not elementary, mind you, elemental, in the sense of wildly contextual, a creatrix of the known.” The lady noticed my open mouth and panicked eyes. “So are you silent,” she asked, “because you recognize me now? Aren’t you ashamed you threw me away? You just didn’t realize. That’s what they all say. But you can take up the realization project again (and may you never stop!) because it’s never too late to escape the subliminal indoctrination of the medium that surrounds you. You are not a vessel. You are not a reflection. You are an original. It is OK to split yourself into many pieces; in fact, is a beautiful thing. Do it every day! You can! The universe is your guide and your mother; her hydrogen and helium are yours. Ten percent of your body weight, in fact, is hydrogen; hydrogen’s George Fayne is oxygen, the famous cousin O. Helium is too restless to make your body its host. You breathe it in, you breathe it out. Helium wants no part of you. It’s your Boo Radley, she added in a stratospheric timbre, as if her vocal folds had just lost all their nitrogen.