The Poetry Section: 'Men Wept' and 'No Hemlock Rock' by Jennifer Michael Hecht

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

The Poetry Section

Today in The Poetry Section: two new poems by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

Men Wept

Socrates sent the women away so he could die
without the sound of weeping. The men wept.

In the painting by Jacques Louis David,
Socrates sits up, points a finger skyward,
and reaches for the hemlock cup. His wife,

Xanthippe (I think of them as Zan and Soc)
is in the David picture too, doing her thing
for the scene: Being sent away.

She is far down the hallway and last. The rest
have turned left, headed up steps and out.

She looks back, like a lot of wives,
she’d been a pillar, and also a salt tart.
She holds up a hand goodbye.

He’s preparing to assault himself. She’s younger
than him. They have little children.

They are likely still fucking, if we allow the phrase
to undergo a deep devaluation while still
meaning something. That’s philosophy.

Recall Soc’s parable of us all four-legged,
two-headed, and self-in-love? Such tenderness.

Then think of Zan, once enrapt in great-robed
arms, now divested. Soc told Xenophon
he didn’t fight at his trial to avoid getting old.

From the vantage of love it seems
wrong to be so full of exit wisdom.

Down the hall, her palm is a twin of his hand,
his a tweaked fist, one finger up.
Posed like a habit but hard like a rock.

He points to indicate a rise up to the Good,
her hand is a presentation, like a message. Stop.

Don’t drink the hemlock. What if, instead,
after his leg braces are off, and he has rubbed
his leg and observed the congruence of pain

and pleasure, but before he is offered the cup,
what if the prison is infested with a hundred bees?

The guard darts for the door, the menaced
guests gasp, yelp, and flee the scene.
Socrates is stung on the leg and when he bends

to see it, a buzz invades his ear, he swats, runs
out the door and home. Quiet now, he minds

the orchards and is soon locally known for his
figs. Back from the trees every night he finds her
filling their glasses, squinting into the setting
sun at the door, she raises a hand to greet him.

No Hemlock Rock

Don’t kill yourself. Don’t kill yourself.
Don’t. Eat a donut, be a blown nut.
That is, if you’re going to kill yourself,
stand on a street corner rhyming
seizure with Indonesia, and wreck it with
racket. Allow medical terms.
Rave and fail. Be an absurd living ghost,
if necessary, but don’t kill yourself.

Let your friends know that something has
passed, or be glad they’ve guessed.
But don’t kill yourself. If you stay, but are
bat crazy you will batter their hearts
in blooming scores of anguish; but kill
yourself, and hundreds of other people die.

Poison yourself, it poisons the well;
shoot yourself, it cracks the bio-dome.
I will give badges to everyone who’s figured
this out about suicide, and hence
refused it. I am grateful. Stay. Thank
you for staying. Please stay. You
are my hero for staying. I know
about it, and am grateful you stay.

Eat a donut. Rhyme opus with lotus.
Rope is bogus, psychosis. Stay.
Hocus Pocus. Hocus Pocus.
Work to not kill yourself. I won’t either.

Jennifer Michael Hecht has published five books of poetry, philosophy, and history, including Doubt: A History and Funny. Her essays and poetry appear in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and the Washington Post. She teaches poetry in the Graduate Writing Program of The New School in New York City.

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