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The peat-bog man
by Francis Phillips

I have read about the peat-bog man
Discovered in the marshlands of Denmark
Preserved in all his pitiful, emaciated humanity:
Skin stretched over bone, knees bent to the belly
A frayed rope at the neck
Enigmatic evidence of ritual sacrifice;
The pathos of a life abridged; a death violent in its invasive finality

Why does this image of the peat-bog man constrict my heart?
Why do I clench my fists in a mute act of protest and pain?
Why do my eyes trace its contours, caress with infinite sadness
This silhouette etched into the earth?

I know you, peat-bog man;
I too am acquainted with a body like yours:
Shrunken, skeletal, lying on a bed
In the same position of stillness and repose
As you: his ancestor, brother, precursor

Now I will always reverence you, unknown man of the peat-bogs
Lying abject, disarmed, in a foetal position
Dignified in death, if not in the dying;
I am tied to you by an invisible cord
That feeds my recognition with its nutriments
That nourishes my bond across the centuries;
A cord pulsating with connectivity

For I once knew a man
Lying in a bed, not a peat-bog
His knees, like yours, bent to his right side
The shallow impress of his face on a pillow, not the ground;
Slain not by ritual execution but by something less distinguished:
The invasion and proliferation of rogue cells in the body
Peat-bog Man: husband;
These images will not disintegrate into dust
However often I disinter them;
However often I recall my memories
Preserved in the salt of the north lands, the peat bogs, my tears