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The Bear

Written by: Galway Kinnell | Biography
 | Quotes (1) |
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? 

from Body Rags, Galway Kinnell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).