The Bear

In late winter I sometimes glimpse bits of steam coming up from some fault in the old snow and bend close and see it is lung-colored and put down my nose and know the chilly, enduring odor of bear.

 
I take a wolf’s rib and whittle it sharp at both ends and coil it up and freeze it in blubber and place it out on the fairway of the bears. And when it has vanished I move out on the bear tracks, roaming in circles until I come to the first, tentative, dark splash on the earth. And I set out running, following the splashes of blood wandering over the world. At the cut, gashed resting places I stop and rest, at the crawl-marks where he lay out on his belly to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice I lie out dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.
 
On the third day I begin to starve, at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would at a turd sopped in blood, and hesitate, and pick it up, and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down, and rise and go on running. 
 
On the seventh day, living by now on bear blood alone, I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled, steamy hulk, the heavy fur riffling in the wind. I come up to him and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes, the dismayed face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils flared, catching perhaps the first taint of me as he died. I hack a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink, and tear him down his whole length and open him and climb in and close him up after me, against the wind, and sleep.
 
And dream of lumbering flatfooted over the tundra, stabbed twice from within, splattering a trail behind me, splattering it out no matter which way I lurch, no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence, which dance of solitude I attempt, which gravity-clutched leap, which trudge, which groan.
 
Until one day I totter and fall — fall on this stomach that has tried so hard to keep up, to digest the blood as it leaked in, to break up and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze blows over me, blows off the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood and rotted stomach and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear, blows across my sore, lolled tongue a song or screech, until I think I must rise up and dance. And I lie still.
 
I awaken I think. Marshlights reappear, geese come trailing again up the flyway. In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear lies, licking lumps of smeared fur and drizzly eyes into shapes with her tongue. And one hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me, the next groaned out, the next, the next, the rest of my days I spend wandering: wondering what, anyway, was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived? 
 

The Bear
Galway Kinnell

 

Galway Kinnell (born February 1, 1927) is an American poet. For his 1982 Selected Poems he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and split the National Book Award for Poetry with Charles Wright. From 1989 to 1993 he was poet laureate for the state of Vermont. An admitted follower of Walt Whitman, Kinnell rejects the idea of seeking fulfillment by escaping into the imaginary world. His best-loved and most anthologized poems are “St. Francis and the Sow” and “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”

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