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  4. Elizabeth’s War with the Christmas Bear by Norman Dubie
Elizabeth’s War with the Christmas Bear

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The bears are kept by hundreds within fences, are fed cracked
Eggs; the weakest are
Slaughtered and fed to the others after being scented
With the blood of deer brought to the pastures by Elizabeth’s
Men—the blood spills from deep pails with bottoms of slate.

The balding Queen had bear gardens in London and in the country.
The bear is baited: the nostrils
Are blown full with pepper, the Irish wolf dogs
Are starved, then, emptied, made crazy with fermented barley:

And the bear’s hind leg is chained to a stake, the bear
Is blinded and whipped, kneeling in his own blood and slaver, he is
Almost instantly worried by the dogs. At the very moment that
Elizabeth took Essex’s head, a giant brown bear
Stood in the gardens with dogs hanging from his fur. . .
He took away the sun, took
A wolfhound in his mouth, and tossed it into
The white lap of Elizabeth I—arrows and staves rained

On his chest, and standing, he, then, stood even taller, seeing
Into the Queen’s private boxes—he grinned
Into her battered eggshell face.
Another volley of arrows and poles, and opening his mouth
He showered
Blood all over Elizabeth and her Privy Council.

The very next evening, a cool evening, the Queen demanded
Thirteen bears and the justice of 113 dogs: she slept

All that Sunday night and much of the next morning.
Some said she was guilty of this and that.
The Protestant Queen gave the defeated bear
A grave in a Catholic cemetery. The marker said:
Peter, a Solstice Bear, a gift of the Tsarevitch to Elizabeth.

After a long winter she had the grave opened. The bear’s skeleton
Was cleared with lye, she placed it at her bedside,
Put a candle inside behind the sockets of the eyes, and, then
She spoke to it:

You were a Christmas bear—behind your eyes
I see the walls of a snow cave where you are a cub still smelling
Of your mother’s blood which has dried in your hair; you have
Troubled a Queen who was afraid
When seated in shade which, standing,
You had created! A Queen who often wakes with a dream
Of you at night—
Now, you’ll stand by my bed in your long white bones; alone, you
Will frighten away at night all visions of bear, and all day
You will be in this cold room—your constant grin,
You’ll stand in the long, white prodigy of your bones, and you are,

Every inch of you, a terrible vision, not bear, but virgin!

Norman Dubie, “Elizabeth’s War with the Christmas Bear” from The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001). www.coppercanyonpress.org
Source: The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)
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Elizabeth’s War with the Christmas Bear

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