“A Song Near the End of the World,” by Sharon Olds – The New Yorker

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Audio: Read by the author.

Because I suddenly think of the bear—
my head jerks up—doesn’t mean the bear
is near. I was here four months before I saw the bear.
Huge exhausted mammal trudged by the porch—it was the bear
Joe told me Sue had seen while she was picking berries.
Male, five hundred pounds, the bear
was massive in front, and tapered toward the bare
patch on the furred almost curly truculent rear.
Such a hot midsummer, such a tired bear.
He was like a god—so much space was filled with bear.
Like a cumulonimbus come down to earth—a density of bear
with blood in him, and teeth, and a bear
liver and bear
lights. A pirate bear, a private bear, a lone bear,
it may be a father bear, it is a son bear,
a quarantine bear,
doing the essential work of his life—an endangered bear.
We did not share breath—I was behind the window, and the bear
passed on the other side of the porch rails like a bear
passing through bars of sunlight. And bears
are imprisoned now in smaller and smaller wild jails for bears.
When I stand at a bush now and pick a blackberry,
I wonder how the bear
does it, with his teeth or his bear
claws, which in my youth were bear-
mitt pastries, brown sugar embedded with poppy seeds like the dirt and gore in bear
hands—people were eaten by bears
every summer. My favorite part of this bear
was his velvety golden-brown bear
muzzle. Galway and I were mates, in a way—a friendship that could bear
strong hugs. To me, a male—bear
or human—was an unknown, like my husband, like Galway. I bore
many poems by Galway, and he bore
many by me. Was “The Bear”
a boy? I think so. A human being was male, then. A girl bear
might have seemed too much like a mother—what man then could bear
his mother. I think this song is like a mate for Galway’s “Bear.”
A friend at the end of the world—it is barely
known how long we can go on. A wish for the bear:
pleasure, safe cubs born
and yet to be born; ease of bear
mind; bear
heart’s ease, and a dream of a bear
heaven, hills and woods of comb-born honey.

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