The voices twisted nearer
then farther away, acrobatic in the cold
crunching snow and branches.
He could not quite see them, but followed
watching for the setter’s red
stretched body, listening for the voice
of his father’s shotgun. The voice
of his father by the fire
telling him the myth again. The bear alone
was their dark continent: he remembered
another man choking on the jerky, on the words,
He’s been here. The dogs circled.
Father found his knife and whet the edge
against the moon. Big as a man’s house,
he whispered, spitting the truth
of bears and Indians like tobacco.
He grew larger. The bear was a dark cliff
that lay against the mountain
watching them search for tracks.
His trail’s pocked the whole valley and half the mountain
but you know the terrain by now, boy.
He recounted the holes, the savagely torn rock,
the splintered trees of his passage:
Little Canyon, Buck’s Pocket, Fife’s Bluff.
He broke the farmland and left it flattened
and claw scarred at the bottom of a canyon.
Mind your step, boy, you never know
when a new paw print might open up
and smack you hard. He can remember
screaming at the tree outside his window,
his father’s tale overlay like a hangman’s
knot cutting the throat in just the right place,
breaking sleep like a bear’s paw breaks the land.
He wakes but the dream hangs on
in darkness. He sees the dogs drift into the mist,
and whistles to them with an empty shell. He waits
alone. Staring at the side of the mountain, he levels
his rifle at the cliff and takes aim at the bear’s dark
green and star-fired eyes blinking in the wind.
– P.B. Adams