Left to Ponder

By Richard Holinger

We walk the gravel road that edges the bog where unfamiliar, slithery animals reside. No one sees these creatures, but we imagine them, and then we ponder them. What do they look like? Could they, if they left the bog, hurt us? We ponder this possibility a lot.

However, we do not fear them as much as we respect them. That is what we tell ourselves when we ponder different outcomes—should they enter our community.

We also recognize that the bog protects us. We believe people we’ve never met, or met a long time ago, live beyond the bog. We ponder this, too. We imagine their machines, their remains, their garbage. We pose hypotheticals and debate possibilities.

As we walk, we hear rustling, we hear crashing, we hear howling. These audibles herd us together. They encourage tight camaraderie. We render opinions about the noises’ origins. We ponder the possibility that these beasts might tear us apart, wrap us breathless, or sting us still.

In this way, we feel alive.

One day, Anatolia, a fifth grade nuisance, leaves our group and walks into the bog. She puts her head down, sticks her arms out to ward off prickly bushes and low-hanging branches, and disappears. The thrashing sounds she makes soon are silenced by thick foliage. We wait to see if she will return. I stay all night, even after everyone else returns to base to ponder what has happened. I hope Anatolia will reemerge.

She does not.

Next day, I enter the bog. Why? I don’t know. I ponder this question as I push back the wall of green that tries to keep me out. It takes nerve, a word that if you rearranged the letters can spell “never.” Maybe that’s it. Anatolia had nerve to do what she did. I do not want to think that I will never have as much nerve. Moreover, I want to find out for myself what’s in the bog, not only ponder what it holds.

The bog does not disappoint. Things that run, crawl, and climb not only exist here, but they thrive. Slimy, furry, and scaly creatures, all new to me.

Advancing inward, scratched by thorns and bitten by insects, I come across the thing that makes most of the noise that keeps those on the outside pondering what goes on in the bog: Anatolias trying to find their way out. When they cannot, when I cannot, we ponder our situation while we roam among industrious creatures struggling to stay alive.

I become one of them. In the bog, I am the bog. This, too, I ponder.

Richard Holinger teaches high school and moderates a writers workshop an hour west of Chicago. His poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in Boulevard, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. Books include two of fiction chapbooks. Three literary magazines nominated his work for a Pushcart Prize.

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