That teenager who prowled old books to find
Any argument with a whiff of the Holy Ghost—
I meet him again in his marginalia,
Which ignored the human sweat and stink and marked
Those passages that confirmed what he was hunting.
There was the milk white hart of evidence.
There was the hound of heaven, italicized bold,
Like an angry footnote chasing it off the page.
And there were the hunters, in pursuit themselves—
Plato, Lucretius, Virgil, Marcus Aurelius—
Who did not know he knew what they were after.
And so he missed a lot, all of it human,
Even while scribbling black and blue Eurekas!,
Bleeding through pages backwards—irrelevant notes.
It was all about something else, which he didn’t see,
As philosophers mounted their lovers from behind
And felt their limbs go dead from the toes upward,
And poets kissed a mouth that fastened tight
And locked tongues and tried to catch their breath.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 28 Number 6, on page 30
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