Bear Life

After John Berryman’s “The Ball Poem”

What is the man now who has lost his tail,
What, what is he to do without his heavy bear?
I saw it dragging across the ice, its hind-legs
Broken by appetite like an angry father
Thrashing the kitchen sink with a kitchen chair,
Leaving a leg there and another there,
Lugging the rest to a rusted barrel to burn
Everywhere that will receive this urn and panther
Carrying its dark and dead hart across the sky.
Who would interfere with starving—
Kill a walrus, seal, whale—interferes
Too late, his death already eating its after-
Dinner cake while riding atop his blank spine.
Death-Prim. Death-Neat. His bear mouth,
Flooding a trash can, finds a skull devoid of meat,
Tears. He is learning, in his broken fur,
That he’s always been committed to genocide.
Cancer or climate change—the with-ness of his body
Committed to the epistemology of loss,
His hunger’s honey smeared across his face,
Eyes wrung out like a dishrag scraped out of scrape,
Left in an oily puddle at the curb. Let him drift
And tremble, let the scab moss and drying
Timothy grease and coffin his wake, his dying
Slashed across the tundra grass where I twitch.
Everywhere, I put my bear paws down and starve,
Everywhere I am God’s unaccounted-for
Pleasure. Behold the future. It is bear.

Roger Reeves’s poems have appeared in journals such as PoetryPloughshares, American Poetry ReviewBoston Review, and Tin House, among others. Kim Addonizio selected “Kletic of Walt Whitman” for the Best New Poets 2009 anthology. He was awarded a 2013 NEA Fellowship, Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and two Cave Canem Fellowships. He earned his PhD at the University of Texas-Austin and is currently an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His first book is King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013).


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