Eric Nelson: “Live Like a Bear Is Near”




I sometimes tell people I pass on the street
that I just saw a bear a couple blocks back. It’s a lie,
but true to the bears I have seen, like the one
that hoisted itself over a privacy fence and landed
on its front legs, back legs waggling the air like
someone learning to dive. Steadied, it drifted
to the middle of the street, tracked the white line
to the playground where no children played, slipped
behind a hedge and disappeared. No one saw it but me
and a black cat that fled, hackles up, Halloween style.

I love the sudden thrill that flashes on their faces.
They pull their earbuds out and scan the area, deciding
if they’ll go the way of the cat, or stay the course. Most
keep going, fully alert, maybe for the first time
noticing both the brilliant green moss filling the sidewalk gaps,
and the highest limb of the sycamore stretching
like a tightrope to the cracked attic window across the street.

They listen like they haven’t listened since they were teens
sneaking out of the house. They listen for the thunk of a trash bin,
for tumbled cans and bottles, for a shout or a howl. They squint
at every dark shape and shadow, become themselves as silent
as bears, attuned to smallest vibrations. When they don’t see
the bear that was never there, they are equal parts relieved
and disappointed, aroused by the force of mixed feelings.

They stand on the corner waiting for someone to come along,
eager to warn them to beware, a bear is near.


Eric Nelson has a new collection, Horse Not Zebra, forthcoming from Terrapin Books. His six previous books include Some Wonder (Gival Press, 2015), Terrestrials (Texas Review Press, 2004), and The Interpretation of Waking Life (University of Arkansas Press, 1991). His poems have also appeared in many journals, including The Sun, Oxford American, Poetry, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verse Daily, and Poetry Daily.

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