Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Marcus Aurelius and the Strong Anthropic Principle

The problem with the name Mark,
In the nickname-obsessed suburbs
Of 1960s and '70s New Jersey,

Was its lack of a truncated version
Kids could agree on. In swimming pools,
The go-to call was "Marco!" "Polo!"

Not that any of us knew who
Marco Polo was or why we used
His name as social echolocation

On hot summer afternoons. Once
In a while, someone would try out
The vast and even more ridiculous

"Marcus Aurelius," a name to conjure
Absolutely nothing, fallen out of the air,
Who knows from what adult mouths

Regurgitating fragmentary learning
Into the ears of enchanted childhood,
When the very weirdness of a phrase,

Meaninglessness itself was shiny,
Pretty nonsense of the kind witches
And talking animals chanted.

"Marcus Aurelius!" one boy would call
Another, but it never stuck except as a fact
Of being some old name. On the boy's desk

In an office in another millennium,
In another sprawl, one phrase on a scrap
Of paper, translated from that old name

Scrawled, "it will all be the same." Mostly,
The stoicism was calming, helpful
In a minor way, who knows whether

It really helped the emperor philosopher
Himself. In a more important way, it is true
And disconcerting. Millennia separate

The death of the emperor from the life
Of the old boy at the cluttered desk.
Still, in every direction, it is all the same.

Had there not been a vague echo
Of a complicated name, would there
Have been any bonding sensation?

There are plenty of people for whom
Acceptance may only be affirmative,
Otherwise immoral resignation. Marcus,

Whatever comfort his imperial philosophy
Granted him, did not take his own name
Passively. Christians were executed, legions

Lost to bearded Germanic barbarians
Along the emperor's northern frontier,
And his whole history suggested the belief

That, lacking right action, it would not
All be the same. All the same,
The sentence still feels correct,

And a side effect of tranquility
Is the knowledge that legions still perish,
The tribes still go to war, emperors

Still attempt to crush rebellion, no matter
If they call themselves emperors anymore.
Belief is still a death sentence at the wrong

End of any other belief. All the same,
Even if the atomized emperor no longer
Registers wishes or aphorisms, and has not

For so long, he could not recognize the world
That has recycled him and his inky phrasings,
His grandiose name, except for its death.

Death he would recognize, were he alive.
The whole routine all of life goes through
To consume and evade consumption

Remains in place like a standing wave.
Marcus Aurelius had no impact on that.
When the old boy was a kid without a nickname,

Other kids referred to one Dr. Schweitzer,
Another of the grown-ups' conjuring names.
"Who do you think you are, Marcus

Aurelius, Dr. Schweitzer?" Made no
Difference. Other fun names, Stalin,
Hitler, Mother Theresa, made none

Either. The evaporation of action
Happens to be inevitable in this configuration
Of a universe. The old boy held with those

Who wished, strenuously, that it were not so,
Not those who found poignance in the strong
Anthropic principle, that this was what must

Be for any of this to be at all, but
He could see that, cosmologists'
Multiversical mathematical fantasies

Aside, this was what this could be
And it could be nothing else except what it was,
All the same. It had no name.

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