by Margaret Benbow


Later they asked her why she’d ranged around
in her midnight silks, a mile from the campsite.
The truth was
that after the evening’s final peace pipe
her groom lay like a stoned pig in a poke
and she drifted off through the woods
in a hemp-brown haze,
thinking that she might see
Kelisto, a star so cold
the snow falls up
instead of down…

The air simmered with thyme and mint, wet grasses
slipping beneath her bare feet. Lianas
dragged at her legs, and she lifted her arms
in their white sleeves
like a paloma
batting its way through the buckthorn trees.
Her nightgown gleamed, lactescent with dew,
and its hem was rank and bright with spores and seeds,
the liquors of plants she’d stepped on,
puffballs, milkweed silk. Tow
nets of webs clung to her face, her lips were glazed
gold and swollen with pollen dust. Suddenly her heel
hit the head of something whose coils and bony mouth
whipped against her instep: black racer snake.
She turned and saw and smelled the bear
in the same instant,
bolt upright
like a man in a gorilla suit
but a bear, a bear. He was surprised as she
and did not touch her at once.
His pig-snout, his whole hairy mug widened
to case the new bait.
Then the clout of his paw
fell heavyweight on her brow. His claws
flicked to her shoulder, dragging stars of pain
along the baby ribbons of her nightdress.
The harsh pile of his arms swaddled her
and at first he held her quite gently, the old friend
she hadn’t seen for years. Then his hair mingled with hers
his breath an oven against her face
she felt her ribs giving way
splitting like flower stems
and when her husband and the ranger burst toward them
squawking, waving drumstick arms
she hardly knew it. The bear flung her
far away, though she tried to hold on tight:
she swam through the dark air briefly
an angel in her rippling clothes
crashed through thorns and branches
to a bank of the flower known as
shooting star. The bear rose, a vast upheaval,
seized her husband and WHOMP WHOMP
pounded him down to size, would have
plucked his catgut backbone, but even as the man’s
eyes with their bluets of bruises bugged out in the face
his own mother wouldn’t know, the ranger
handled one more dangerous character: drew,.
aimed for the beefy back of the bigger wrestler,
plugged him good.

-originally appeared in Poetry.