Eliza and the Bear

She kissed the bear on the nose

Eliza and the Bear

1. Cottage by the Sea

I did not know my lover was a bear.

I’ve seen him bare. I’ve seen him leave his skin.

He roars. Bear wet, grizzly

shakes his head crawls into bed

places a bloody paw on my breast.

In the morning a paw mark on my skin.

It masks freckles, masks my nipple.

I did not know my lover was a bear.

I did not know he was on all fours all night

crawling the streets looking for the wilderness.

I did not know he wanted to go

back to woods and harsh brackish skies.

I did not know he wished to go.

He never said

Sweetheart I am a bear I am leaving now.

I am going home.

The night is a blue green ocean I swim in.

He comes and sees me on certain nights,

other nights he wanders the woods.

O bite the light sweetheart; bite the edges.

Be bear like.

I can see you being bare as you wander

eyes like reservoirs gleaming at trees, at weather,

at colours that spin in your dreams.

When you see salmon,

the smell of fresh blood

glimmers in your mind’s eye.

I wait for you. I wait in our cave.

I wait in bed, coiled in sheets and red linen.

My hand touches the spaces you made

before you left for the hills.

I did not know you had gone to the sea.

You took off out onto the waves

like a landlocked sailor

freeing yourself from grey sands.

I did not know my lover had gone to the sea.

I woke with salt on my lips.

I woke with sand in my hair.

I woke with the sheets soaked black with oil and tar.

I woke with a gull on the dresser.

I woke with your hand waving in the mirror,

slowly topping from side to side.

I woke with your body bobbing outside the window

on a wave of rain and cloud on a winters morning.

I cried for your drowning.

I cried for your sunken ship.

I did not know my lover had gone to sea

until the thunder on the river woke me

and the empty space in my bed sat upright, dressed, put on its sailor’s hat, kissed my flushed

cheeks and ran, unrepentant,

out of the door.

*

I wake in the night sweating.

There is a figure by the door.

It is the same height as you.

It has no eyes.

I did not recognise you the first time we met

and I should have done.

You were hidden. I could not see you.

You kept turning from me.

It was an ordinary day.

We met in the woods

and your coat was shimmering

in an afternoon drizzle

and your bones shone

through damp fur

like forest fires.

I could see your innards.

I could see your organs billow

and wobble inside your translucent frame.

I blinked.

There were fish laying in wake. Dying

fish wriggling on the dirt path

as if they had crawled out

of the river when you crawled out,

weed angling in the shadows

and a cloud of hot water

as if from a kettle

steamed on the earth

you had passed through.

I did not know you though. I should have known.

What should you have known?

Wildlife, storm clouds, flood.

What should you have known?

Warm sheets, thunder, breath.

What should you have known?

Trees in groves, bark and winter greys.

What should you have known?

Hedgerows, clear commons, parklands, vistas.

What did you know?

I did not know, that you would come and go.

I did not know you would come and go.

Eating berries from a red paw like fresh meat.

Eating fish from the river like sweets.

Eating the sky with a kiss.

*

I reach my hands into the tides

and pull out a bear gasping for air.

You fret on the sand for a moment.

I reach deep into the forest

behind the firs

where bear paws,

rough like coal,

press out from the bark.

I put them to my lips and eat.

I reach into the leaves of an oak

were you hang in a noose,

to cut you down and set you

to smile and soar,

over the treetops, over the rain

up and away into the clouds.

I did not know you would come and go.

I did not know you would wash away in a rain

I did not know there would be no relief from the tides

that pull on my belly day and night.

I did not know footsteps at the full moon

tapping across the moonlit garden,

baby hare between your teeth.

I did not know where you came from.

I did not know where you came from.

One night you came blistering smart and ready.

Rain, some stars, a flat moon

he ran his fingers through my hair

wondered about

howls and teeth

that let in rain,

a thin bitten roof.

You gnawed your way in.

2. Bathing

I splash about in the bath.

I lay eggs.

I spawn in water.

I give birth to cubs every month.

At high tide I hatch my eggs –

and spawn bear cubs in the bath,

in thick gluey eggs.

They float and then bob up to the surface,

bear faces smiling out

from under mops of black wet ears

to disappear down the plug hole,

their wet noses and eyes howling,

“moon monster moon pheasant tide”,

and weary rain drops call us back into the air,

into oxygen and felt time –

the cool blackness of a night on the planet

at the edge of the sky

just one night: please let us breath.

The bear cubs splash on the tide,

their hearts brazen and also wild.

You are elsewhere eating liver, eating silver,

eating the remains of a heart

on a track somewhere on the edge of here.

3. Cottage garden

I hear the sun rise,

a fox’s breath lingers in the dawn air

as it passes into the hole in the fence.

I stand at the doorway

and weep like a small child,

my face in my hands

my skin crawling with spiders,

that have tumbled out of the woodshed and up my arms and over my breast and over my eyes and over my thighs

and into my vagina

and into my womb

and are spinning webs in the darkness,

in the wet darkness at the centre of me,

where I can not see

and can not touch

and can not know

but by hearsay

and instinct.

I weep into the blue-black, belly swarming with eggs.

Squat and squirt the red mess over stone.

A soft rain leaves only a damp face,

tear-coated and slithery,

this nakedness,

that sways around me to dampen

the passing,

as I realise the garden is in the treetops

and this is a tree house

and that the ivy on the brick work

are branches of a giant tree,

that to fall from here would land

me on a street somewhere

and there would be a bear on the earth

and it would have your eyes

and it would ravish me.

*

O the sun the sun

rain and a summer storm

How will you find me?

I will not find you

Will you let me roam… I kissed you

And I turned your face to wind and said there it is go now

and you said “O but where do I go at night into the blue black to turn my coat to fur and rest my clawed all fours on the bark of a parkland oak”… you sting at the edge of the light.

if you say so he said

I’ll and wait for you to leave the woods and make for the hills

to follow you…you said… “If you can run as fast I will be gallant in my far-flung stride. I could travel to the moon on the thrust of each step, each leap into the unknown.”…and gather me home, take me back to the lair…

only if you want to

4. Bedroom

I will sleep and wait.

The floor is stone, the sky outside the window

is a blue pane in the dirt on the glass.

I open my eyes and see the shape of a bear

in the half-light beyond the bed,

on its back legs, it leans on the doorframe,

and smiles, stares at me with black eyes,

nods its head as if looking at a baby

then springs forwards

and places a wet paw on the end of the bed.

It turns to look into my face, questioning

and slightly uncertain and then nuzzles

itself under the covers,

begins to lick my skin

with its rough tongue,

dipping between my thighs,

tickling my stomach.

I breathe the thick scent

of pine forest and mountain river,

damp fur, salt, and sweat.

It curls its head onto my belly.

I weave my fingers into its coat

and hold on tight.

I wake dreaming of bears

and lovers and still the space beside me roars.

I wake my fingers

tracing the lines

of its tongue,

of the sheets’ slip on my back,

the weave of the cotton

slight ridges edging the nub of my spine.

The morning is cold

as I look into the mirror

and see two eyes glimmering inside my own.

I am carrying myself through the day.

My self balanced in the space between my eyes

focussed only on the air

the empty places at my left, my right.

I look into the mirror and see a woman there,

but know that isn’t me.

I am riding inside her

somewhere on a mountainside

in the centre of her body,

in the landscape

in her guts and blood.

She has acres of land within her skin.

That is where I am,

washing clothes in a lake,

gathering berries from a bush,

gutting fish,

laying fresh leaves in the cave by the stream,

asleep on dry grass.

Somewhere

in the wet heaving dark

I am free.

5. To the city

I have gone to city on the railroad.

I have gone to the snow.

I have gone to the edge of the country

with the taste of a morning on my lips.

I am travelling the distances of red deer and foxes –tracks in the snow.

My footprint is my signature.

I am tracked by hunters with sad faces.

They run about beneath the white trees like angry dogs.

I gave birth to you last week

I roam.

I took you and remade you. You were a bear,

a cub, embryo

were sperm invisible you crawled back inside

as I held you, your body shrinking

and thinning in my arms.

I crawl.

till I have you in my womb like a good meal and settle

myself to wait till dawn for the birth

in the light of the new sun.

I run.

a pack of hounds hunts the rats

in the hedgerows. Red-coated men on tame

horses clatter beneath my window.

I hide.

Take off its neck with a knife.

I come.

and the blood flows onto the soil and fizzes like arsenic

I roam in the snow. The tracker’s kilometres distant. I reach my mouth into the wet clean snow and drink, my heart pounding. The sun strokes the hills far from here, gently and with kindness.

I crouch in white snow.

Sun slight and waning.

Snow borrows from the sun

only what it needs.

There is a row of dark thin trees

on the bow of the hill.

I’ve sore eyes from the silence

and its shrill song.

Night. There is a camp on the horizon.

I circle and prowl its edges

Each tent embroidered with images of animals

They keep out the night

Each hare and vixen has eyes darned green.

There are many stars; the fires

are red-orange.

The light has electricity sewn into the edges.

6. On the shore

I went to the sea to find your body.

And what did you find there?

only water

and you found the cub on a rock by the shore

and brought him home.

I washed him and fed him and held him as he cried.

I put him in a cradle of leaves and branches

rocked him with the scent of winds and wild distances.

The cub cried.

Out on the shore.

Whimpered and whined.

Out on the shore.

In the dark of the night.

Out on the shore.

I picked him up and brought him home, wrapped him in a towel, warmed his bones.

I found him.

On the shore.

The bear ran away to sea, to find our cub on and bring him home

I brought home the baby.

but there was nothing to eat.

I brought you a cub.

I brought it in my teeth.

But there was nothing to eat he needed meat and fish

from the mountains.

In my teeth swinging, morning sun catches on my fur bumbling home with a gift.

Nothing to eat, only the sky for shelter, rain-soaked

we stood as water poured in through the roof,

there were holes in the roof.

No patches and heat.

I can give you heat. Coil in my coat, shelter in the shadow of my belly and teeth.

Nothing to eat.

Nothing to eat.

A snapped wing or neck, ripping of flesh.

I eat. I eat.

6. In the walled city

He coils in the snow trapped

and taken to the city where I find him

one night in a tavern for beasts in cages.

He tells me tales of past adventures

loves and absences.

I clutch at each raw sentence as it passes into the distance

and I loose their sense on the wind.

He tells me of how he rutted and ran in the wilderness

before the bars and cellars of the city.

I can see him taking lovers.

I can see him taking creatures without names.

I can hear their thrusts, their comings.

their wetness, salt and semen.

I can touch the curves

that uncoil and wander through my senses.

Past ghosts swell in the dark

full-eyed voluptuous swaying

faces wet and steamy

dancing in the shadows

as they lock horns

in the flat black dream darkness

the dreamt time

where the uncontained and luminous wretches

of their bodies tear at our bodies.

The bear cries softly in the corner, a tired smile,

he drops and groans.

I cry. I groan

*

Bear skin. Bare skin

When you came clambering out

of the darkness

and ran into the warm spring night

new forms were found

the space between our bodies rub

was inverted space.

What was made and lived

between us in the darkness?

Where is the blank time

the end time the time after the rain

has settled and cleaned to freshen air.

The day is a dirty

murky swell of deep water: an undertow.

7. The Cave

I cover myself in dry leaves,

in earth colours so I can’t be seen.

So I can’t be touched. I will take your touch

away and discolour it. Fade it

leave it out in the sun to dry.

I will hide from your fingers,

from your bear hands, bear touch.

I will hide in the cave that you gave me.

Hide in its shadows and curves

and replace your curves with earth

and stone and cool nights of dry wind.

An air from the centre of the earth

swirls from the tunnels like a breath.

as if I am hiding in a mouth.

Lying in your mouth.

carried in the mouth of the bear,

in the graveyard of his teeth,

the enamel rich

with old blood and fish.

I’ll lie leaf bound. Still.

You hide is my cover.

I will hide on the inside

and you will not find me.

You will not think to look for me there.

You’ll be looking for my bones and breasts and hair

and you’ll search the edges of the city

and find nothing.

I will travel like a tiny bird inside your mouth,

travel with you, tunnel down into the depths

of your gullet,

until your are pregnant with me

till you blossom and bloom and billow

with the weight of me.

A cub in the belly of a lover.

A home in flesh and blood, in warmth and animal sense.

I did not know my lover was a bear.

~Eleanor Rees

Art: John Bauer

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