poems by helene


 Socrates’ Cock     (2007)

 “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepios:  see that it is done.”

 It didn’t help him that he resembled Socrates

 (who, according to contemporaries, strutted and had beady eyes)—

 No:  despite this family connection

 he was rudely taken, torn from his hens,

 and thrown on the altar

 where, with utter disregard for his love of life

 he was parted from it,

 to pay a debt to (of all things) the god of healing.

 What debt?  None of his owing—

 none at all, really—

 just Socrates, that bag of air

 making a point to his toadies

 that he had been “healed” of bodily being.

 Afterward, walking the Westward Road,

 did Socrates meet the cock?

 Was all peaceful?  Or did the cock give chase

 and employ his well feared barbs

 on flabby calves?


One of Meno’s Slaveboys attends a Lecture on the Pythagorean

Theorem Delivered Using the Socratic Method  (2008)

 I am fascinated by his toes.

 They are broad and stubby, with thick yellow nails,

 and grimy—any houseboy of my master with such feet

 would feel the stick—such a stick as the stranger fondles,

  which at first made me anxious, until I saw

 that he intends only to scratch with it in the dust.

 He and my master jabber, and my mind wanders to the stable,

 where I was tossing coins behind the wall with the other boys

 until called away by my master for some purpose I do not yet understand.

 Wait!  I think the stranger is addressing me…

 I put on an attentive look until I can determine what he wants of me.

 What is twice four?  Ah, eight—that was easy enough!

No?  He gives my master a sly smile, and I see that I have been

caught in some

 trick…   but what answer does he want?

 I gaze at his face, looking for a clue…  is the next answer a simple yes?

 It seems so.  Yes!   And now I see the pattern:

 another yes…and YES… and yes!

 I am on a roll, as we boys say when our coin-toss goes well!

 And now it seems I am dismissed, to return to that very game,

 and the stranger, and my master, seem gratified.

 But still, the toes…

 they will stay in my memory

 of this very strange day.


I, Diotima   (2007)

 I, Diotima, am speaking now.  Listen!

I am real, not a literary device

 to convey a fake modesty on the part of Socrates

 who knew his listeners would think he originated my ideas

 in his plagiarized speech on love.

 I was older—there he told the truth;

 and he was just a boy, mired in boy-play.

 I led him into a shallow cave

 where the late afternoon sun had warmed the rocks.

 I undressed him.

 All that chatter about Poverty and Plenty—he added that later.

 When I touched him, he was silent--

 hard to believe of that windbag, I know--

 and he trembled as I swept him

 up those steps that lead to Beauty

 to the topmost slab, where I laid him out as on an altar

 and made him a burnt offering to myself, 

leaving him ever after so wordless

 that all he could do was spout the contrivances you read now.