Jim Chapson was born in Honolulu, educated at San Francisco State University, and has been teaching writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee since 1976.
Skepticism: Six Demonstrations
“We admit the apparent fact,” say they, “without admitting that it really is
what it appears to be.”. . .[I]n his work On the Senses, [Timon says,] “I do
not lay it down that honey is sweet, but I admit that it appears to be so.”
Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, IX.105
It was a warm day, or so it seemed,
and the sea was calm, but it might have been
snowing, in reality, and the sea rising in towering waves.
Who knows what anything is, really,
when solid rock becomes molten
lava becoming solid rock again?
It had all the appearances of a criminal war,
unjustifiable on any grounds, but
it may have been necessary and honorable,
as it seemed to those who started it.
In the fog-wrapped, golden city,
the young were discovering sex and drugs,
but whether this was a model of the angelic life,
or a trap set by demons, is pure speculation.
Though the bomb apparently vaporized
tens of thousands of innocents, perhaps
they had merely left for a picnic on the beach.
I will admit we sat beneath the willow tree,
practically in one another’s arms,
but I could not say his lips were sweet,
only that they appeared to be so.
This is what the Lord God showed me:
in a bowl of sand two scorpions fighting.
What do you see? he said.
I said, scorpions fighting.
Then he poured fire into the bowl, and said,
What do you see now?
Ashes, I said.
He emptied the bowl, filled it
with wine. Drink, he said.
Shepherds and shepherdesses, I said,
sporting in amorous play,
as in a painting by Watteau.
Drink more, he said.
The shepherdesses have now retired, I said,
to their boudoirs, and the shepherds
lie together wrapped in sheepskins
on the stony ground.
Finish, he said.
I drank the bitter dregs,
and the Lord took me by the hand,
for now I could see nothing.
The thinking apparatus has done its work,
he said, and has concluded
that nothing more can be seen or said,
but there is much to know,
and the purgation of the affective apparatus
will now begin.