The Bear

by Galway Kinnell

Read by Emma Rye


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



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?


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