Atlantis Poem Sequence
by Julia Marie Wilson
Frustrations of a Schoolmaster
Rubbing his thundering temples on the steps
of the Academy, a schoolmaster sighs into air
that tastes of salt and day-old fish. The agora
is loud with negotiations over figs and opinions.
His headache is induced by students misbehaving
in a humid classroom, brains stale, shriveled
and thirsty like their lunch, crusty bread and dried fruit.
The weary man sinks to his knees. His patience
is unraveling to its last thread
and he clenches a scroll in a sticky fist
as bluish veins map the surface of his wrist.
Plato cools his forehead on a sturdy marbled pillar
while the crowd before him proceeds in their bargains
and afternoon debates. He watches a crook sneak a chunk
of cheese underneath his robes, and right then,
in the heart of Athens, assembling his pupils
on the steps in the sun, Plato resolves to teach
imminent men about the expense of folly and greed.
Sons, you daydream of an ideal life,
unspoiled and abundant in thought.
There was such a place where the gods
gave their blessings each morning and night,
and I confess to know this secret site.
Past the Pillars of Hercules sat a city
built on divine plans of a perfect world,
a model of utopic life, a land
greater than the impressive sum
of Libya and Asia and free of strife
glinted under the water’s blurry surface,
a cloudy jewel much in need of cloth.
Here where all but virtue was shunned,
where gold and silver and orichalcum
adorned the pillars and temples
of the great god Poseidon,
where hot and cold springs once spurt
from the earth, where soil was rich
and horses raced for sport,
and where earthquakes and floods
damned where they struck,
this is Atlantis.
Plato traces the name with a finger in the dirt
while ears ensnare hypnotic words.
Now you have been taught
that the sea god fell in love
and consequently bore ten
half-human sons, the eldest
named Atlas. This son ruled
the lush island with enough
provisions to support every human,
every plant, and every creature
living in the sea and on land.
They built a great bridge
out of the minerals they dug
from the rich soil, and from three
colors of native stone they erected a wall
around their palace and lofty temples
and gold-drenched statues
and lush gardens and aqueducts
and a stadium of their own construct.
Though the people were bathed
in luxury, they did not care for wealth.
Devout virtue and perpetual peace
were the most respected of all things.
Atlantis was a place of order,
a model of reason and respect.
Poseidon inscribed sacred laws
on a column to be followed by all.
Atlas and his nine brothers in conference
pledged loyalty to these erected edicts
and promised to judge transgressions accordingly.
In sacred ceremony, they paid royalties to gods
with bull’s blood, flames, and wine.
Donning azure robes, the demigods dined
on prosperity and dreamt of beauty and truth,
and this was Atlantis.
Here Plato pauses and waits for one pupil
to take the bait and ask of the secret city’s fate.
The demigods, though nourished by abundance,
grew hungry for supremacy and influence.
Virtue eroded like rotten teeth,
blackened by sweet greed.
The festering sore of war erupted.
And once power became the lone pursuit,
the doomed city crumbled
in the hands of an angry Zeus.
And here lies Plato’s case against fools
who surrender their morals for other pursuits.
As the sun sinks behind the school, shadows
set on each pupil’s face, now heavy and solemn.
The agora emptied and still.
Plato sighs, this time from relief,
and at last, the schoolmaster is pleased—
until one lad unrolls a map on the bottom step
and swears on oath that one day
he’ll find the lost city Atlantis.
The tired teacher laments
a futile lesson plan.
Ignatius L. Donnelly, a U.S. Senator, was one of the first people to suggest in his book, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, published in 1881, that Atlantis was an actual historical place, rather than just a mythical land that originated in Plato’s writing. Other writers expanded on Donnelly’s theory, and many people speculated about the lost city’s location.
“Once again man missed my point.”
—Plato reflecting in his grave
Didn’t Donnelly consider that a plot was at play?
Plato’s persuasion that made some lose their buoyant heads.
Those who read the great philosopher became chained
to his words and with arrested attentions searched in vain
for the great city lost in salty sunken depths. Though geologists,
perhaps on a Monday lunch break, yawned and stretched
and proved with tectonic plates the impossibility of it all,
there are those who still search, their minds swimming.
But Plato shakes his heavy head at each finger that points
that here—right here—is the spot.
North turns to a wayward West
while East meets a stubborn South
when magnetic fields are corrupted and crossed.
Lost, no map can uncover the buried truth:
the best places anchor the pages of a book.