Poetry | September 01, 1997

 

Nelson Candy says he saw him cross the snowmobile trail

which divides the field he recently hayed.

 

“A white nose like an old dog’s,” he insists.

They were hauling in strawberries, his wife and him.

 

“Must be an old male—a mother would be busy with cubs

this time of year.” Nelson points toward the woods

 

the bear took refuge in, woods I walked in

earlier in the day, woods which like a vision

 

never appear the same. Soft-dappled by summer light,

they are a shifting luxury and I chill at the thought

 

of encountering bear upon its deserted trails.

“Knocked down Johnny Sawyer’s cow fence

 

just last week,” Nelson adds. I describe the claw marks

gouged beneath my son’s window a year ago—

 

could be the same bear, or the one I spied

at Sweet Water Farm, stripping trees of winter apples.

 

But Nelson is onto other things—the property he caretakes

is up for sale. The price is too high, but still,

 

at 70, it’s tough for he and Eileen not to know

where they might be. I turn to take my leave—

 

there’s supper to make and my own young son

to care for. By bedtime, I’ve all but forgotten the old bear

 

and how he might lurch through jewelweed

to the compost pile where I tossed peaches

 

top-dressed with mold and pears dimpled with decay.

I kiss my son good night, then cover him

 

with the cowboy bedspread that covered his father as a boy.

The background mountain ranges are faint,

 

but the red shirt of the wrangler and the red flowers

on the cacti remain blood bright,

 

even in the low glow of the night-light.

The horse the cowboy rides is a gray ghost—

 

likewise, his kerchief and the face of the brown steer

who’s just been rustled to the ground.

 

Lowell’s remark about poetry—meat hooked

from the living steer—comes to mind,

 

but my pen feels like a blade of grass

I might lay, in inky darkness, upon the rock

 

that forms the cornerstone of my garden.

In bed, I read soft words calcified upon the page

 

while moths congregate at the window screen,

thrumming the dust from their skittish wings

 

as though it were a sleeping powder.

I’m soon washed over by dream and drift

 

through the hollows of space while my unconscious inflates

like a blow-up angel who redeems, compels

 

and magnifies the soul in its sumptuous waste.

I dream the elephantine beauty of private experience.

 

I dream, in fluent wonder, of the organs in my body,

soft as fetal heads, and of the old bear clawing me open

 

as though I were a trench deep with the darkest honey.

Drugged by sleep, I succumb to the bear

 

when he lowers his head to devour

my womb’s dark nimbus. I wake,

 

shuddering, as if in the throes of childbirth,

then stagger into my son’s room where the windows,

 

like books of moonlight, illumine the mysteries which fall,

soft as unshod breezes, upon his sleeping face.

 

No bear has been here, but I climb into bed anyway.

My son’s head smells malty, like dead-headed flowers,

 

just as it did the moment when more than he was born—

although the ancients say we have two souls,

 

the physical spark and the dream wanderer,

I birthed in that hospital room, a third, to forever

 

ghost and guide my soft, romantic child.

I now summon forth this trinity of souls

 

until dense with their sensuous presences—

they move like nurse maids, about the bed

 

and sing in fairy-like voices until my son

rolls into me, like a log on a fire, safe

 

beneath his dreamcatcher which promises to ensnare

in the bright abacus of its leather web

 

the stately and doomed spirit of the bear

as though it were the ruined side of ourselves

 

which, in its hunger to be whole, brutally guts

the beautiful worth inside us.

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