The Bear at the Dump

By William Matthews 1942–1997 William Matthews
Amidst the too much that we buy and throw   
away and the far too much we wrap it in,   
the bear found a few items of special
interest—a honeydew rind, a used tampon,   
the bone from a leg of lamb. He’d rock back   
lightly onto his rear paws and slash
open a plastic bag, and then his nose—
jammed almost with a surfeit of rank
and likely information, for he would pause—
and then his whole dowsing snout would   
insinuate itself a little way
inside. By now he’d have hunched his weight   
forward slightly, and then he’d snatch it back,   
trailed by some tidbit in his teeth. He’d look   
around. What a good boy am he.
The guardian of the dump was used
to this and not amused. “He’ll drag that shit   
every which damn way,” he grumbled
who’d dozed and scraped a pit to keep that shit   
where the town paid to contain it.
The others of us looked and looked. “City   
folks like you don’t get to see this often,”   
one year-round resident accused me.
Some winter I’ll bring him down to learn   
to love a rat working a length of subway   
track. “Nope,” I replied. Just then the bear   
decamped for the woods with a marl of grease   
and slather in his mouth and on his snout,   
picking up speed, not cute (nor had he been   
cute before, slavering with greed, his weight   
all sunk to his seated rump and his nose stuck   
up to sift the rich and fetid air, shaped   
like a huge, furry pear), but richly
fed on the slow-simmering dump, and gone   
into the bug-thick woods and anecdote.

William Matthews, “The Bear at the Dump” from Time and Money: New Poems. Copyright © 1995 by William Matthews. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved,

Source: Time and Money: New Poems (1995)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet William Matthews 1942–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Animals, Humor & Satire, Nature, Arts & Sciences

 William  Matthews


William Matthews's poetry has earned him a reputation as a master of well-turned phrases, wise sayings, and rich metaphors. Much of Matthews's poetry explores the themes of life cycles, the passage of time, and the nature of human consciousness. In another type of poem, he focuses on his particular enthusiasms: jazz music, basketball, and his children. His early writing was free-form and epigrammatic. As his career has . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Animals, Humor & Satire, Nature, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.