Oct 26, 2018

Today’s poem is “Bear” by Betsy Sholl, who was Maine’s third poet laureate. She has published eight books of poetry, most recently Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin Press 2014). She lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches in the M.F.A. Program of Vermont College.

She writes, “[The poem] began as an attempt to write a series of alphabet poems, to let the particular letter involved sort of guide the poem to discover what it could by letting that alphabet letter speak. (I got as far as K and had to take a break.)

“But 'Bear' comes from an actual experience of being in New Hampshire at the end of the summer when there was a lot of talk about bears being out and about fattening up for winter. Out jogging one morning, I did come across one and regretted that I took everyone's advice and scared it off before I really got to see the animal herself.”

By Betsy Sholl

Say you’re out jogging in New Hampshire
and come across one feeding on berries,

too busy with those sweet juices,
with fattening up for winter, to bother with you,

who just wants to move along country roads
on your own two legs, between meadow and wood,

not too fast, not too slow, out for a run
before porridge.  Innocent enough,

but still an intruder, still something a bear
might sniff as trouble, bothersome

for a creature intent on moving through
her world unharmed eating berries

with her cub on an August morning—
a creature much like you.

But there’s that cub, and you’ve been warned:
sing, make a racket, till they shamble off.

A barroom ditty comes to mind,
all those bottles of beer on the wall, so you sing

as if a song could save you,
and wave your arms overhead to make yourself bigger—

or boorish, you begin to think,
as mother nudges cub off into the woods.

After all, what did you see?
Just a glimpse of bear body through roadside scrub,

and nothing, nothing of its beauty.

“Bear” copyright © 2016 Betsy Sholl. Reprinted from Numero Cinq (May 2016) by permission of Betsy Sholl.