Heraclitean Thirst

All things begin in fire and in fire end. All things have souls.


Dark exhalations of the earth, and bright from the sea, rise up into the sky where bowls with

their concavities turned toward us collect them, and those bowls are stars, gathering the light

and heat they pour back down upon us.


The moon too is a little bowl traveling across a path less pure. So its light is dimmer; so its

light varies.


The sun is no larger than it appears. What is is what is. There is no more.


You can lean back in the long grass and cover up the sun with your toe.


For fire to return to fire brings the cycle of a life to its close. It isn’t a line, but a circle.

Perhaps it is the work of every life, as Emily Dickinson says of her own, that our business “is

Circumference.” The circle ends where it begun, and makes of all that was said, all that was

lived, some null set called zero in which silence regains its old supremacy, not as a denial of

life, but some reminder underneath the living of it, that it must end to begin, so that we

arrive back at nothing.


Heraclitus claims wisdom is not in listening to what he says, but in hearing the words that

speak through him. He speaks to get out of the way of those words, and so speaks best

when we hear that he speaks silence.


Mostly we forget what we do when awake, even as those who sleep forget their dreams. It’s

hard to find someone wholly awake. Some might say our whole lives we never shake the

sleep from our eyes, our whole lives we never quite wake up.


“The stupid when they have heard are like the deaf; of them does the proverb bear witness

that when present they are absent.”


Who hasn’t walked into a room with purpose set only to arrive and wonder why you find

yourself standing, empty-handed, exactly there?


These small rehearsals of what life might be.


When you go somewhere to collect absence or forgetting.


It hides from us because we want so much to know it. Maybe ourselves; I mean, our own

lives. But also the world. “Nature loves to hide.”


It is as important to know that day and night are one as it is to know you are you and other

than yourself.


Heraclitus writes: “For it is death to souls to become water . . .”


He writes, “It is delight to souls to become moist.”


Of his death, variations of a single story abound.


So despondent at the lack of virtue in the men he met, he began to hate the company of

anyone and could bear only his own solitude, so he went far from the city “and wandered on

the mountains, and there he continued to live, making his diet of grass and herbs.”


But this diet gave him dropsy. That this man for whom all life was a principle of fire, who

feared water killed the soul and yet souls delighted in moisture, died by his body filling with

water it could not rid itself of, so swollen that the print of a thumb might stay on arm or

ankle long after the hand let go its grasp, reminds yet again—as if one needed reminder—

that for the gods irony is a form of sacrifice more so than wit, is the marker of our helpless,

fateful devotions.

∞∞ Dan’s related essay, Circles, also appears in this issue and can be read here. ∞∞

Dan Beachy-Quick is the author, most recently, of gentlessness (Tupelo) and Shields & Shards & Stitches & Songs (Omnidawn). He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Colorado State University, and is currently a Guggenheim Fellow.