An Orange in Mérida

By Ben Belitt 1911–2003 Ben Belitt
The orange-peelers of Mérida, in the wrought-
iron midday, come with mechanical skewers
and live oranges, to straddle the paths
on caissons of bicycle wheels
and work in the dark of the plaza, like jewelers’ cloths.

The orange is ceremonious. Its sleep
is Egyptian. Its golden umbilicus
waits in pyramidal light, swath over swath, outwitting   
the Caesars. It cannot be ravaged by knives,
but clasps its mortality in, like the skein of an asp.

The bandstand glitters like bone, in laurel
and spittle. Behind their triangular
catafalques, the orange-peelers move through the thirst   
of the world with Rameses’ bounty
caulked into the hive of the peel

while ratchets and wheels spin a blazing   
cosmology on their little machines. Under   
skewers and handles, the orange’s skin
is pierced, the orange, in chain-mail and papyrus,
unwinds the graveclothes of Pharaoh

in a helix of ribbon, unflawed, from the navel’s
knot to the rind and the pulp underneath, like a butterfly’s   
chrysalis. And sleeper by sleeper, the living turn with their thirst   
to each other, the orange’s pith is broken
in a blind effervescence that perfumes the palate and burns

to the tooth’s bite.
                                  And the dead reawaken.

Ben Belitt, “An Orange in Mérida” from The Double Witness: Poems 1970-1976. Copyright © 1977 by Princeton University Press. Used with the permission of the Princeton University Press.

Source: This Scribe, My Hand: The Complete Poems of Ben Belitt (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Ben Belitt 1911–2003

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Activities, Death, Social Commentaries, Eating & Drinking, History & Politics, Living

 Ben  Belitt


Poet, translator, and professor Ben Belitt was born in New York City in 1911. He earned degrees from the University of Virginia and taught for many years at Bennington College in Vermont. Sometimes described as one of the neglected masters of 20th century American poetry, Belitt taught and influenced poets such as Susan Wheeler, Reginald Shepherd, and Lynn Emanuel while at Bennington. Susan Wheeler has described Belitt’s . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Death, Social Commentaries, Eating & Drinking, History & Politics, Living

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.