But Mostly They Were Bears
We linger near the mouths of caves
track footprints till dusk descends—
people have followed these trails
for thousands of years and from you
all I want is a few words.
I am rock sheltered
and the carvings
that read me to sleep
and I dream of
following the bears
the way we’ve lived
as if the land bridge isn’t long gone.
I tell you a skinned bear
looks like a human corpse
and I am as much bear
as you are.
If we don’t make it down
I want you to make sure
our bones are interred together
in the same grave.
I want you to tell them
I was a bear and I am
laid with bears.
And you were the one,
strapped with meat,
so pregnant you crawled back.
People Have Always Known Bears
You said you were afraid of bears—
I said, we all need trauma, and my heart
breaks every autumn, because when the sky’s right, it’s golden.
We weren’t safe, you said, until there was ice along the shoreline,
so we broke ourselves against those rocks until the cave mouth opened:
a womb for blind crayfish,
a passageway harboring beetles.
I want you to reach into the depths of your back woods
and remember our winters, we need the bears, ourselves
ursine, sleeping in dens—the caverns drip-stoned and stunning,
I was and still am in search of a great bear,
because people have always known bears,
we will always be shelter for each other.
When we first met, I told you that a long time ago,
grizzlies came down from the Rockies—
how they were poisoned on the range, trapped,
hounded, shot out—we found cranial fragments.
We still listen to those legends of bounties paid
to mountain men harboring that ancient fear—
the bears that made meat of us, boar and sow,
mauled and gnawed away, our bones in the cave,
because you were born to hunt, and I was
born of hunting, a witness of great fires.
Sarah Marcus is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at George Mason University, where she is also an English faculty member, a staff blogger and reader for So to Speak: a feminist journal of language & art, and a staff member at Phoebe: A Journal of Literature & Art. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Cimarron Review, Cold Mountain Review, So to Speak, and Slipstream. She was named a finalist for the Iron Horse Literary Review 2011 Single-Author Competition in Poetry, and a top 25 finalist in Glimmer Train’s November 2010 Short Story Award for New Writers competition. Originally from Cleveland, OH, she most recently resides and writes in Fairfax, VA.