From THEY WERE BEARS
By Sarah Marcus:
PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN BEARS
You said you were afraid of bears—
we weren’t safe until there was ice
along the shoreline. I said we all need trauma,
and my heart breaks every Autumn, so we broke
ourselves against those rocks until the cave mouth opened:
a womb for blind crayfish,
a passageway harboring beetles.
I want you to reach into the depths of your backwoods
and remember our Winters. We need the bears, ourselves
ursine sleeping in dens—the caverns drip-stoned and stunning.
I was and still am in search of a great bear
because people have always known bears—
we will always be shelter for each other.
When we first met, I told you that a long time ago,
grizzlies came down from the Rockies—
they were poisoned on the range, trapped,
hounded, shot out—we found cranial fragments.
We still listen to those legends of bounties paid
to mountain men, harboring that ancient fear of
the bears that made meat of us, boar and sow,
mauled and gnawed away. Our bones resting in caves,
because you were born to hunt, and I was
born of hunting: a witness of great fires.
First snow of the season—
your eyes say
there’s not much oxygen
in the mountain air.
I have never wanted someone
as much as I want you.
I devalued the damage:
you won’t belong—stay gone longer—
let it melt.
I’ve been thinking about you
because we cannot be separate.
The gravitational pull defies
the thousands of miles between us.
Even in the deepest woods,
we kneel beside the rill,
the river’s riffle,
the spruce’s mantle of rime,
until the point of rock
swells tightly around us.
There’s a chant building in the forest: I won’t be your secret.
Everyone knows how to leave,
but I don’t know how to be
in this city
MYTHOLOGY FOR DESERT LOVERS II
These things are real:
you are a desert moon rising a hundred mornings away.
My horses paw a cracked Earth.
The air threatening Winter.
The solitude of sand.
We can smell the danger
of you and her
in that house.
In every house.
When you are so strongly connected
to another person, what did you call it? Rare?
It’s like the sunset.
No one can hold that kind of beauty
for more than a moment.
Our small ribs are thick
enough to take on a prairie panic.
The fear of too much open space.
So many acres;
we can never catch up.
You say I’m always on your side—
and this will always mean more
to a woman.
I try to explain that love is a violence,
even when it’s beautiful.
When you enter someone,
you must also leave them.
And there’s always that moment of relief
when I realize that I’ve always known—
I am a hundred deserts.
I will wait for you or some version of you
to become sky.
Today’s poems are from They Were Bears (Sundress Publications, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Sarah Marcus, and appear here today with permission from the poet.
“They Were Bears gives us a world that is intimate, complicated, and lush in its raw, brutal meditation upon the complexities of Nature, both within and beyond our grasp as both human beings and animals. These poems by Sarah Marcus channel what the world demands of us, and our bodies as we are guided through a startling cartography of desire, trauma, and memory that is both refuge and wilderness. Marcus writes, ‘I want to say that there are places I have to go, and you have to follow me…through all this orange light, every version of the color red, we betray ourselves for miles.’ With stunning craft and intuition, Marcus places her lyric power against the beautiful, terrifying bones in us where words often feel broken and impossible. Her poems expand through their stark and luminous discoveries to reveal a natural and psychic world too complex to ignore. Marcus gives us sacred breath in which to claim that world when she writes, ‘We inscribe the rocks/with our names, wanting a sign,/want the sky to say:/This is mainland. Solid ground./The place you’ve been looking for.’” -Rachel Eliza Griffiths, author of Lighting the Shadow
Sarah Marcus is the author of They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications), Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight (2016, GTK Press), and the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, Spork, The Establishment, Cosmopolitan.com, and Marie Claire.com SA, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and the Series Editor for As It Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH.
Editor’s Note: In the Jewish calendar, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a surreal and reflective time of reckoning. During these days we are introspective, coming to terms with our true selves before turning outward and asking forgiveness from those who we have wronged. It is in these Days of Awe that I come back to a collection I have been meaning to review for quite some time. It is in this magical time of brutal honesty that I dive deeply into a carefully-wrought world that is far beyond my comfort zone, with eyes and heart wide open to its savage and beautiful truths.
They Were Bears is one of the most thoughtful–if not the most thought-provoking–poetry collections to be released in recent memory. Rife with hunger and blood and animal instinct, this work pulsates at the intersection of nature and violence, family, sex, and love. They Were Bears drags us mercilessly back to our animal nature, honoring vulnerability and calling out sexual violence. This book pulls no punches, spares us little. What is reflected in its waters is our truest selves, as beautiful and terrifying as they are wont to be.
The tender, ravenous, brutal honesty of the book’s thematic spectrum is brought to life by the true craftsmanship of the poet. This is an absolutely stunning collection on every level–its words and images thrash and breathe, fly and tether. The poems are lush in their soundscape, and on the page they mark their territory distinctly. And the moments. The breathtaking moments. How true their revelation, declarations, and admissions: “because you were born to hunt, and I was / born of hunting: a witness of great fires;” “I try to explain that love is a violence, / even when it’s beautiful. / When you enter someone, / you must also leave them.”
Mazal tov to Sarah Marcus on this incredible work, and may we all start anew together in these Days of Awe.
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