Ben Belitt


The original man lies down to be copied
face down on the glass. He thinks what it is
to be other than he was, while the pilot light
goes garnet, a salamander's eye
blinks in the camera's cave, green burns like the skin
of the water seen by a surfacing swimmer:
and the moving and shaking begin.

What must it be, to be many? thinks the singular
man. Underneath, in the banked fluorescence, the rollers
are ready. A tarpaulin falls. A humming of flanges
arises, a sound like rail meeting rail
when power slams out of the fuses. A wick explodes
in the gases—and under the whole of his length
the eye of the holocaust passes.

And all that was lonely, essential, unique
as a fingerprint, is doubled. Substance and essence,
the mirror and the figure that printed the mirror,
the deluge that blackened creation and the hovering pigeon
with the leaf's taste in its beak,
are joined. The indivisible sleeper is troubled:
What does it mean to be legion?

he cries in the hell of the copied. The rapists, the lovers,
the stealers of blessings, the corrupt and derivative
devils, whirl over the vacant emulsion.
The comedian peers from the brink and unsteadily copies
its laughter. The agonist prints its convulsion.
Like turns to like, while the seminal man on the glass
stares at his semblance and calls from the pit of the ink:

Forgive our duplicity. We are human
and heterogeneous. Give us our imitations!
Heart copies heart with a valentine's
arrows and laces. The Athenian dream and the adulterers paired
in the storm tell us the mirrors are misted. The whole of our art
is to double our witness, and wait.
And the original man on the plate
stands and steps down, unassisted.

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