Bears in Autumn

Bears in Autumn

What is this hunger, the calm roiling the pond,
whose eyes, cooling among the flames—
the bears refuse to burn with the thicket
like the names of those we’ve forgotten.

Leaving because we must is never easy.
The first day we hold them we never let go—
it is because we love them they must go,
and we see it first in their eyes.

They are excited, the young bears, heads emerging,
swimming with the white and blue currents of beginning—
they leave the forest, the cave of white light, no longer underground.
Mama trudges because she must—protecting, helpless.

We stare at them, see what they want us to see—
could the Big Dipper be anything but a dipper?
But to the Romans it was Bear or Seven Plowing Oxen,
and now, to the Europeans, Ursa of the Hour is a plow.

A trinity of bears rules over the earth, but can we be certain
of only one having a body—could it be ours?
We burn with the same conviction, our faces open
as we pick up the axe and go about our father’s business.

What part of those creatures lives inside us,
they who survive wandering over the snow—
who among us has not known poverty,
transcended the physical, been momentarily wise?

What matters to those who speak with us,
what are they saying, what do they want—
what will we ask of the derelict spring
as we chart our way back to the stars?

William O’Daly

Published in Tiferet: Literature, Art, and the Creative Spirit, Autumn 2016; nominated for the Pushcart Prize