By Elisavietta Ritchie


For Roy Tester


Put out for adoption at birth, now
you send me a trio of polar bears:
the mother, dark muzzled, leads
two cubs over the floes. Her feet
stand square on one raft of ice.

The camera caught the first cub
in his mother's wake, front paws
on her float, his black nose
close behind her white tail,
like Babar's procession of elephants.

His back feet stretch from the floe
slipping away behind and he is about
to belly flop into the drink --
His twin stares toward the lens as if,
when he's grown, he would eat it.

Floes shift like lily pads in a summer pond.
Drifting islets of ice extend
toward polar infinity, will freeze
into solid crust when the Wise Crone
snatches away the sun in a cat's-cradle.


Ignorant of your parents,
no offspring of your own
(one learns to be careful),
did you choose this card
half-aware of an inner longing?

Or did you sense that like Mother Bear,
I still try to guide my progeny
through dangerous passages --
even in our more temperate zone,
the world can be slippery. Cold.


I picture you trudging across urban snow
into a brick municipal hall. You seek
Day after day, you wait in line,
snowy boots puddle into dark seas,

questions leave more question marks.
Like navigating through Arctic straits:
icebergs surround you, blizzards engulf
your charts scratched on ice, what you
hoped was safe harbor is icebound.


Children irked with imperfect parents
imagine: I was adopted, my real dad
is the Storm King, my mother -- the Snow Queen.
Yet we are all scions of princes
raised by the shepherd's wife.

Locked in the vault, our crowns await us.
Minions will rush with welcoming roses.
Our kingdoms stretch rich and green.
Meanwhile, we tend royal sheep
whiter, more woolly, than polar bears.

Originally appeared in Amelia, (winner 1993 Amelia Prize);
Reprinted in Kairos, 1993; The Arc of the Storm (Signal Books, 1998)