Anthony Caleshu

To be an Epicurean

Pleasure is the alpha and omega of a blessed life, our first and native good,
for that reason we do not choose every pleasure whatsoever.


The last time I abandoned you was at a ball game
in between innings with a hotdog in my hand
and a hat on my head.  I was having a beer

with the beer-girl under whose ponytail
I could just make out a tattoo tucked in the small valley
behind her left ear: amiga. Let’s make this interesting,

she said, taking control with imperatives,
the kind which begin with infinitives:
To befriend: to follow: to faith. 

If only I could call myself an Epicurean.
For it’s as obvious to the stars as it is to the sun: pleasure
comes in the sort of friendship that starts

when another throws a cold cup of beer
on your burning crotch. To bless a life
beyond signs and superstitions,

beyond disorder and uncertainty, beyond
wetness in its quietness
is to shatter a soul into empty space.

If only I could have spoken her language of ethical theories
I would have been able to express my thanks
as I stood under the hand-drier being blown

into higher consciousness. Or to put it another way:
into my shirt pocket she tucked a collection of Epicurus’
Sovran Maxims: about friendship (the most important

means by which wisdom acquires happiness),  about desire
(natural but too often unnecessary)
and death (death means nothing, for it has no

sensation, and that which has no sensation is nothing).
Who would want to contemplate death, I thought,
on this day in the sun, as I sipped my beer,

so refreshing and hoppy. But the word death
kept ringing in my ears, and it produced in me a sensation
I had not known before: as if the beer in my mouth

were tasteless; as if the ballgame were ball-less, as if my
body and mind were warmly being blown
not by the winds which waved the flag above

the right field’s foul pole, but by the words of Epicurus,
who, as he lay dying, of strangury and dysentery, under the
olive trees in his Garden, remembered his old friend Idomeneus:

On this blissful day, which is also the last of my life… my continual
sufferings are so great nothing could increase them; but,
I set above them all the gladness of mind of our past conversations.

How was it possible, I asked myself now, to lead the sort of life
where death would be bliss under olive trees surrounded by friends?
I swore to forsake the prodigal – the hot dogs, the drinking, the

sensual lusts, in favor of vegetables and sober reasoning.
Even when Epicurus is around, as he was on that day,
hitting fly balls deep into the outfield, every so often

reaching us in the bleachers, it’s not so easy to choose between
pure and impure pleasures. Just as it’s not so easy
to leave behind old pals to follow a beautiful

new pal – with a beautiful tray of beers, slung around
her beautiful neck – into the storeroom, to spark
and flicker, if just for a moment, if just in your imagination,

under a blown-out bulb. Time is neither wholly ours,
nor wholly not ours. But already, our 7th inning stretch was over.
The organ blared, the fans cheered. To be called

back to the ballgame was just another way of confirming
the need to put Epicurus’ philosophical ideals to more tests.
With the crack of the bat, the tempest in my soul soared,

sending me clambering over flip-seats, tracking
that ball, hit so high and so hard
above our heads, until I lost my sight in the summer sun

and leapt over you, and out of the stadium,
into the sky, in search of the magnitude of all of our limits.


I’ve lost track of where Epicurus ends and I begin.
Perhaps it’s here, outside the ballpark, where celestial phenomena
light up the loose corners of the landscape?

At the corner,  by the traffic lights, I paused
at the pedestrian crossing. All momentum, I discovered,
is not perpetual, some of us just stop –

dead in our tracks. Friendship may not be
momentum, but it’s at least one of the reasons
we still believe the Earth to be round, like a baseball

to the head is round. I imagined the brush-back, the balk,
the vibrations of the bat in my hands from a bunt
becoming more than just metaphors for life.

So much within us is unknowable but the knowledge
that some of us will never find tangible pleasure
in intangible experience troubled me. I sprained an ankle

leaping off the curbside, running as if I were stealing a base
or a bagel. One has no idea, really, about what it means
to race across the street until one is en route,

with no one to hold their hand, no one
to open their eyes to the eternal flow
of flight coming their way.  At this point, I’ll ask you

as I asked myself, what if you lose track of your motivation?
What’s the difference between becoming
a cautionary tale and a myth? If this moment is – or,

if this moment is not – the very something that comes next –
post-pleasure, post-pain, post-friendship, post-
us – in the name of Epicurus, does that make us

prophets or heretics? Don’t let me dissuade you
from settling like a star in a rocky sea. I’ve tried not to wonder
about just what you think of me. But, between us,

who really aspires to have their number
retired for charity and hung down from the bleachers?
Who doesn’t want to challenge death and its proposed void?

I’ve tried not to forget the strange coincidences
that began in our childhood and landed us into each other.
Only the unconscious knows what it means to escape consciousness,

I read that day from the Maxims inside my shirt pocket.
And another:  a bean ball will set you free
to pursue life outside the batter’s box.

In the distance, I could see fires by an altogether
different sense: the smell of smoke making me un-
button my shirt, and free my collar to fly high and away

like the wings of a bird. In that instant,
I waved goodbye to the man with a large yellow hand on his hand.
It may have seemed like my foam finger was giving

the finger to the world, for an imagined life in a tree house
in Peru or a beach hut in Thailand, but even as I walked
into that liminal space, no longer fearing being stopped

by a cop for drinking beer out of an open container,
the horizon was heavy with the sun’s burning.
The soul’s capture appeared unforecasted, but foreshadowing

snow-fall in my hands on a Sunday in July.
And maybe this is why these miles have felt
so cold? Our old friend, Moonrider, you’ll recall,

knew there were spaces between worlds
which could be populated by other worlds.
Between me and Moonrider, always,

there was a waning or a waxing, which we used as shorthand
for the obliquity of heaven. The moon may shine
by her own light, just as she might derive her light

from the sun, Moonrider told me one day. And I concurred
that plural explanation was the way to engage
the evidence which so often fell extinct in our hands.

Anybody can be forgiven for anything nowadays:
even Moonrider. For the vainglorious expectations he had
not of himself, but of me. Expectations

can happen too soon, and stranger things have happened
than strangers looking askew and talking about you
as you prepare to cross the street.

Outside the stadium, seasons opened: clouds formed
and gathered under the pressure of wind;
rain came as exhalation; the violent inundation

of lightning rubbed me for the first time in my life
the right way; fiery whirlwinds;
starry shadows streaking across the sky.

In the middle of the street traffic,
I closed my eyes and a baseball pinged
off the foul pole, and fell into the open glove

I had left on my ballpark seat behind.


Dear friends, do not smile into the whiteness of the wilderness
is the first thing I learned upon arrival, not in the anticipated
sub-tropics, but in this fro-zone. Smiling undermines

the polar bears and the wolves, not to mention
your own hopes about what you might achieve.
Howling into the distance can feel good,

but when you are alone why howl into the distance?
Despite a tattoo’s coded message, I withdrew
from memories and future visions, wondering

which would come first enlightenment or death.
I was the one and only passenger to board the plane
of the pilot whose advertisement said See you on the other side.

At 30,000 feet he bailed, floating like a mushroom
down into loam of the land. I scuffed my shoes entering the cockpit,
and held my breath over something lacking

in myself. Man loses all semblance of mortality
by living in the midst of immortal blessings,
wasn’t a Maxim I was aware of but one

I spoke and respoke as I fell lonely and clinging
under a parachute made out of paper
hoping for the submission of finding snow in my soul:

       Who among us can remember to not remember
       the future? Who has no terror
       of those who contemplate death?

       Whose desires can be clear and certain
       outside of their actions? Who takes pleasure
       in a friend’s absence? Who is not disturbed

       by waking after dreaming? Who can live
       as a God among men? Who is
       superior to you? you might ask yourself.

To be an Epicurean, as I was not, is to believe
the cold will abate even as it remains cold.
It was not what I was expecting.

It was not as simple as silence.
It was the not the sun under the sun,
the snow bright in the snow.

When the sun was overhead —
when the snow was in your eyes —
anybody can see heaven in himself.

The decision to run home came quicker than the decision
to voice the insurmountable.
Where was the last call and re-spark?

Who was I to go wild-eyed into the wilderness?
The 2000 watt fan heater in my office
used to put me asleep. It was deserved justice

for the lust and bafflement I suffered
everyday. The last measure
of my fortitude, the last bildugsroman

I read was about a boy whose flight from friends
could be excused because he was 20 years
younger than me. I stuttered through

depressions of snow, ice crystal more drastic
than the removal of a spleen. My hands: if you’ve only
two hands your life depends on two hands.

My heart, O heart, who has, who can hear
my hope? What I thought was never enough
complicated the moment

between us, between you at the ball game
and me in this winter landscape, alone.
The water under the ice was a distant reminder,

a rhythm of speech,
of sea sounds
in between long lines

in between short sounds
of my walking over a long-ago beach
to a sand bar,

far out from rocks:
Come in! The water is as warm as the air! I shouted.
The cold can only for so long be cold!


The same conviction in me that inspired confidence in you,
now inspires uncertainty and confusion. The knowledge
that was pending has been deferred, so I’ve nothing left

to offer. When we see each other again
please remind me of your names.
In the Vatican library, we once overlooked the other-wordly together

but that was a world ago:
Things that are now and are to me come and have been,
was scribbled in the margins of a book.

I took this to mean that it is easy to disregard
the winter that is long and mild. This winter
has been long, not mild.

It’s put in me a hunger I’ve forgotten to mention
in speaking this way. I’ll pledge to stop talking about
our conversations which once seemed timeless and mutual

if you can tell me when to stick to one’s soul
and when to relinquish it. Outside the sum of things
we live our lives unknown, said Epicurus,

but he also thought skepticism and superstition unhelpful.
Herodotus, he said, on their last day together at the ballpark,
what’s the score? And Herodotus in soft-spoken fashion,

ran through the doctrines most important to his peace of mind.
With no chance for a homerun in sight, the ball
which falls from the sky and breaks our nose

produces a current of breath through which we can get
free wi-fi. We reject as impossible our subdivision into smaller parts
but watch the sky for someone rounding the bases nonetheless.

In this mode between life and death, we are neither
at the peak nor the trough, there is no zenith
just a diamond made of ether we walk around ad-infinitum.

What else can you tell me about friendship and the soul,
I howl at the moon nightly? What is their relationship
to time eternal and everlasting? One of the advantages

of being alone is the time I’ve had
to study the infinite. Movement
between one’s feelings is infinite, just as movement

between the mind and the soul is infinite. When I wake
in the night and see that I have so many hours left to live
the world around me has a pulse:

                            the sky,
                            the ground,
                            my head.

When I abandoned you last the formation of dew
on the ball-park’s morning seats could have been mistaken
for hoar-frost. When I abandoned you last it was my intention

to live out my life chasing storms that came from
somewhere and someone –100 foot waves crashing over
a 50 foot wall.  I ran out of gas and had to thumb it

cold back to the city.

       To Idomeneus, leave my 1975
       Fred Lynn and Jim Rice Rookie Card.

       To Hermarchus, all of those programs compiling
       all of those statistics I’ll never understand.

       To Menoeceus, the belief
       that bliss and immortality require no partiality.

       To Pythocles, the gladness that resistance is fleeting.

       To Epicurus, the belief that happiness can be found in the
       paradoxical pleasures which consume me:

       cold like fire, brightness gone blind.

Who could have known that so long ago the sun
was already confirming life outside our minds?
Who would have thought that wisdom

could be found in contemplating a day out at the
ball park with friends? The last time I abandoned you,
the sun was still high over the ballgame,

but the night-lights were already on and
flickering like lost souls in the sky.
When I abandoned you last, the apologists

were apologising for Epicurus – his self-confessed
unknowingness, his words pre-dating our words
unifying body, spirit, and, mind. From my body and mind,

I manumit your body and mind. For your friendship,
if we ever meet again, I’ll return your friendship.
For my actions and words today, please know

there are a variety of explanations.
Whatever after-life I have left in me
should go to you.



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