This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Genevieve Pfeiffer, is from Woman Drinking Absinthe by Katherine E. Young, released by Alan Squire Publishing in 2020.
The bear marauds inside my garden,
plants his tracks among the roses;
his scent lingers in the hollies, the yews.
I gather broken branches in my arms,
pocking hands and face with prickling leaves.
Inside the house, my cats sniff anxiously,
note the bitter tang of bear on my skin.
They press their noses to the window,
seeking solace in the glass:
clear-eyed frame that holds us back,
bladed pane that keeps us safe.
The bear says: “I’m not dangerous!
Let me make a den for you:
I’ll decorate the walls with shells,
spread soft moss across your bed;
songs of falling water will soothe the air.
your full, pleading lips,
though they’re not the type
to which I’m accustomed.”
I tell the bear: “My prince
will come claim me.” Clear, uninflected.
The bear just laughs:
“Does his skin smell of musk,
his flesh taste of honey?
Does his fur warm you in winter?
Does he know to smooth your cheek
with all his claws drawn in?”
When he holds me in his arms,
I hear roaring in my ear.
The bear says, “Look closely:
there’s a ring set in my nose.”
And though I’ve stroked his snout
a thousand times, I’ve never—before now—
felt iron beneath my fingers.
Says the bear, “Once, I begged
for my living, recited rhymes,
my paw outstretched.
I screwed the ring in myself,
thought I’d live better with a chain,
with four walls to steady me.”
The bear shambles through crowds,
snout turning side to side,
his eyes always seeking,
I don’t know what he’s seeking…
He prefers I fall two steps back,
that way no one shouts, “Look!
A woman’s chained to that bear!”
Although the chain’s invisible.
Although at night, when he leads me out,
no one sees he’s a bear.
Katherine E. Young is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Woman Drinking Absinthe, Day of the Border Guards (2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize finalist), and two chapbooks. She is the editor of Written in Arlington and curator of Spoken in Arlington. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Iowa Review, Subtropics, and many others. She is the translator of Look at Him by Anna Starobinets, Farewell, Aylis and Stone Dreams by Azerbaijani political prisoner Akram Aylisli, and two poetry collections by Inna Kabysh. From 2016-2018, she served as the inaugural poet laureate for Arlington, Virginia.
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