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The Bear

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Tonight the bear
comes to the orchard and, balancing
on her hind legs, dances under the apple trees,
hanging onto their boughs,
dragging their branches down to earth.
Look again. It is not the bear
but some afterimage of her
like the car I once saw in the driveway
after the last guest had gone.
Snow pulls the apple boughs to the ground.
Whatever moves in the orchard—
heavy, lumbering—is clear as wind.

The bear is long gone.
Drunk on apples,
she banged over the trash cans that fall night,
then skidded downstream. By now
she must be logged in for the winter.
Unless she is choosy.
I imagine her as very choosy,
sniffing at the huge logs, pawing them, trying
each one on for size,
but always coming out again.

Until tonight.
Tonight sap freezes under her skin.
Her breath leaves white apples in the air.
As she walks she dozes,
listening to the sound of axes chopping wood.
Somewhere she can never catch up to
trees are falling. Chips pile up like snow
When she does find it finally,
the log draws her in as easily as a forest,
and for a while she continues to see,
just ahead of her, the moon
trapped like a salmon in the ice.

Susan Mitchell, “The Bear” from The Water Inside the Water. Copyright © 1983 by Susan Mitchell. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Source: The Water Inside The Water (Wesleyan University Press, 1983)
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The Bear

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  • Susan Mitchell is the author of three collections of poetry, The Water Inside the Water (1983); Rapture (1992), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and a finalist for the National Book Award; and Erotikon (2000). Her poems have appeared in magazines and journals such as the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Fence, among others. The recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, Mitchell’s other awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lannan Foundation.  

    Mitchell’s style has been described, by Peter Harris in the Virginia Quarterly Review, as “great flowing, ebullient, praiseful… full of leaps and ravenings after unmediated vision. At frequent enough moments her poems not only proclaim but embody rapture.” David Barber, writing in Poetry about Rapture, noted: “These are not poems that hold steady or smoothly cohere.The restlessness of Mitchell’s intelligence is an agitated response to the unintelligible, her eclecticism an...

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