Friend the Bear
Down in the bone myth of the cellar
of this farmhouse, behind the empty fruit jars
the whole wall swings open to the room
where I keep the bear. There's a tunnel
to the outside of the far wall that emerges
in the lilac grove in the backyard
but she rarely uses it, knowing there's no room
around her for a freewheeling bear.
She's not a dainty eater so once a day
I shovel shit while she lopes in playful circles.
Privately she likes religionfrom the bedroom
I hear her incantatory moans and howls
below meand April 23rd, when I open
the car trunk and whistle at midnight
and she shoots up the tunnel, almost airborne
when she meets the night. We head north
and her growls are less friendly as she scents
the forest-above-the-road smell. I release
her where I found her as an orphan three
years ago, bawling against the dead carcass
of her mother. I let her go at the head
of the gully leading down to the swamp,
jumping free of her snarls and roars.
But each October 9th, one day before bear season
she reappears at the cabin frightening
the bird dogs. We embrace ear to ear,
her huge head on my shoulder,
her breathing like a god's.
Bear died standing up,
paws on log,
right through the heart.
The hunter only wanted the head,
the hide. I ate her
so she wouldn't go to waste,
dumped naked in a dump,
skinless, looking like ourselves
if we had been flayed,
red as death.
Now there are bear dreams
again for the bear-eater: O god,
the bears have come down the hill,
bears from everywhere on earth,
all colors, sizes, filtering
out of the woods behind the cabin.
A half-mile up
I plummeted toward the river to die,
pushed there. Then pinions creaked;
I flew downstream until I clutched
a white pine, the mind stepping back
to see half-bird, half-bear,
waking in the tree to wet
fur and feathers.
Hotei and bear
sitting side by side,
disappear into each other.
Who is to say
which of us is one?
We loaded the thousand-pound logs
by hand, the truck swaying.
Paused to caress my friend and helper,
the bear beside me, eye to eye,
breath breathing breath.
And now tonight, a big blue
November moon. Startled to find myself
wandering the edge of a foggy
tamarack marsh, scenting the cold
wet air, delicious in the moonglow.
Scratched against swart hemlock,
an itch to give it all up, shuffling
empty-bellied toward home, the yellow
square of cabin light between trees,
the human shape of yellow light,
to turn around,
to give up again this human shape.
is the author of twenty books, numerous screenplays, and served for several years as the
food columnist for Esquire magazine. His work has been translated into
twenty-two languages and produced as four feature-length film. As a young poet he
co-edited Sumac magazine and earned a National Endowment of the Arts grant and
Guggenheim Fellowship. Mr. Harrison divides his time between northern Michigan and
"My Friend the Bear" and "Bear" were
taken from Jim Harrison's latest collection of poems: The Shape of the Journey
(Copper Canyon Press, 2000)