Homage to the First Geometer
Jack Butler


All things are water, Thales said, and meant
a universal clarity underlay
the granular, turbid, obdurant
stones, the tendons of a child at play
in a backyard puddle, the firmament
(that blue corneal bulge, that film blown full
atop the rumor of an irised world)


itself.  All things.  Off Bimini,
the broken-backed surfer drowned in surf,
dawdling, staring down eternally
to realms of coral.  The translucent leaf
dancing in jaded sun, the 22
whales one strong mind storied me,
who beached themselves repeatedly


on a small round island--though the coast guard dragged
them one by one with cables to the drink
each time but the last--and died, fatigued,
successful, bloody.  All things, old Greek?
Some ambitious, over-pedagogued
incurious student (may he have caught a tumor)
misunderstood your aqueous humor


in his note-taking haste, laid waste a life
to unholster a meaning:  I have idled
all afternoon by the floor-stove with my love,
watching the incandescent, blue, unbridled
rush, rush, rush of
multiply-kerneled heat.  I--sheathed like sun-
sheathed wheat in her whose blue-green


iris in a slant of late light pulsed sheer cell, sperm, nuclei nibbling void--thought, another afternoon, of porches, Thales, the shells of novae.  You had a laughter that fanned your genius or else drew sustenance.  Oh not yet wholly gone, accept this benison,


these sprinkled drops, these votive quanta,
from one who, diametrically mistaken,
nevertheless is going to
subscribe to a physicist's equation--
light as the rod of all.  Where do you wander
now, Miletan?  Which spark, what star?
O Thales, Thales, Thales . . . all things are fire.

--Originally published in The New Yorker

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