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On Quaking Bog

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for Jean Brockway

When the walkers-on-water went under,
the bog-walkers came out of the barberry
thickets, booted in gum to their hips,
in a corona of midges, their ears electric
with sound, beating the stale of the swamp
with their whips and flailing the ground
for the itch under the frond, the fern’s
demonology, the mosquito’s decibel.

Night-sweat clotted their palms. They tasted
their gall. The sumac flickered a swatch
of its leaves in the lichens and venoms,
a dazzle was seen in the fog
as a vegetal world gave way to a uterine,
pitch pulled at their heels and blackened
their knuckles, the bog-laurel’s fan
opened its uttermost decimal and showed them the Bog.

Paradisal, beyond purpose or menace, dewed
like the flesh of an apple with the damp
of creation, the disk of the pond glowed
under the dragonfly’s bosses, where a faulting
of glaciers had left it—vaults of bog-rosemary,
buckbean and Labrador tea, a dapple
of leavening mosses soaking in ice-water, peat-wicks
feeding their gas to the cranberry braziers.

They entered the bonfire together. The moss
took their weight like a trampoline:
they walked on the sponge and bitumen without
leaving a footprint. In between,
in the vats of mat-roses where the waterline
closed like a skin, the ambiguous
world of imbalance, non-being, the pre-human
and tentative, was one with the ludicrous.

The quaking began—under their bootsoles
at first, like a whale under ambergris,
then cramming their wrists with a drummer’s
vibrations, knocking their ribs and their knees
as all sagged and rebounded. They lurched on the wet
as though tracing a profile of breakers
or displacing the cords and the voids of a net,
and staggered back into their childhoods,

till their feet touched the granite again.
The bog tossed them over the threshold
that opened a path in the spruce toward the opposite
edges. The leaves closed behind them. They walked
an unyielding and tangible world like strangers, remembering
only the hovering glare where the pitcher-plant’s
hammer closed on the fly—the light shaking and shaking—
as a pulse touched their feet from below, and passed over.


Ben Belitt, “On Quaking Bog” from Nowhere But Light (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970). Used by permission of the Estate of Ben Belitt.
Source: This Scribe My Hand: The Complete Poems of Ben Belitt (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)
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On Quaking Bog

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