The Bear

By Galway Kinnell 1927–2014 Galway Kinnell

         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.

         2
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.

         3
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.

         4
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.

         5
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.

         6
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.

         7
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?

Galway Kinnell, “The Bear” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

Source: Three Books (2002)

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Poet Galway Kinnell 1927–2014

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Sports & Outdoor Activities, Nature, Death, Animals, Living, Activities

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Galway  Kinnell

Biography

Galway Kinnell was an award-winning poet best known for poetry that connects the experiences of daily life to much larger poetic, spiritual, and cultural forces. Often focusing on the claims of nature and society on the individual, Kinnell’s poems explore psychological states in precise and sonorous free verse. Critic Morris Dickstein called Kinnell “one of the true master poets of his generation.” Dickstein added, “there are . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Sports & Outdoor Activities, Nature, Death, Animals, Living, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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