The Bear (1990)

I trapped an enormous bear
and held him near a tree
sitting up, with my snare
wrapped around a paw.
He didn’t growl.
He hadn’t growled at all.
He sat a furry mound,
scruffy and priestly
and mangy. Here and there
his pink skin poked through
like moth-eaten coats,
and its pattern of bristly brown
was like a coat:
shaped like ancient continents
on maps from the edge of time.
He was spotted with grime,
fine layers of dust,
and buried
in tiny flitting fleas,
and underneath nine or ten
clasps of beige burrs held tight.
While his lungs were breathing in
the foggy air
– the frightening teeth,
ripping apart the hazy gasps,
that can tear so easily –
I thought of the tender red meat
mountains under the fur,
the big and small muscles,
the dusky yellows and ivory
of fat lined bones,
and the gray heart-pump
like a pulsing stone.
I looked into his eyes
which were as large as mine
but deeper, and darker
the irises hidden and clouded
with black urethane
seen through the frames
of old scuffed sunglasses.
They rolled around, but not
to look my way.
– It was more like the surrender
of consciousness before sleep.
I admired his weary face,
the drawn lines of his snout,
and then I noticed
that from his front foot
– or paw if you will –
short, stout like a tree trunk,
were the scars of battle,
with long-toothed traps
and twisting tangling ropes
and all their painful reminders
wrapped around the limb.
A bullet wound, still raw
from a ravaging invader, bare
and a ripple in the fur
torn from the force and fury
when it impacted and still he fled.
Like trophies with their surfaces
engraved and bas-relief,
a layered list of patience
carved into his aching paw. watched and watched
and pride washed up
over the piles of leaves
where trees had shed
around the bare trunk
to the misty green heights,
the long rays of sunlight,
the flannel of my shirt,
the Elmer Fudd hat – until everything
was bright, bright, bright!
And I let the bear go.
And he mauled me.


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