Theories of the Soul

By Karen An-hwei Lee

 A true friend is one soul in two bodies. 

Kant says, transcendental
    idealism. In Aquinas,

we exist apart from bodies
    but only on Thursdays

when his famous ox
    flies by the window

wiser at Cologne
    where Albertus Magnus,

his real name, appoints
    Aquinas to magister studentium,

master of students. Aquinas
    is petrified but says yes.

He feels his soul
    sailing out of his head

floating near the roof
    where a blue ox wings by.

On Wednesday, two bodies
    are one soul

waking at sunrise
    thanks to the pineal gland

of Descartes, who thinks
    this node in the brain

is a tiny sugar cone
    or salted peanut,

the seat of the soul
    while Aristotle points

to the chopping
    ax as a teleology

as if the ax were a living,
    breathing person

which it isn’t.
    Heraclitus, air and fire

while Aquinas objects, no
    not an ax but ox.

If you’re a bird or soul
    I am only one mile

from the sea. If you
    are a soul in two bodies

life is more complex
    and we must labor

twice the field of sorrow
    after sleep, bath, and a glass

as Aquinas whispers, the things
    we love tell us who we are.

Source: Poetry (April 2011).


This poem originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2011
 Karen An-hwei Lee


Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo, 2008), and In Medias Res (Sarabande, 2004), winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. A book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora (Cambria, 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series. Lee’s work appears in journals such as The American . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, The Spiritual, Arts & Sciences, Philosophy


Poetic Terms Couplet, Free Verse

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