• jamesbriankerr

Trash Day (A Poem)


I

The black bear’s got me again.

Walked out this morning and there he was,

before the men had made their rounds,

rooting through the trash the way he does.

Tried to run but in three bounds

he had me, pinned to the ground,

pressed beneath the weight of his paws.


Foul, insatiable beast:

Nose slick wet with kitchen grease;

eyes as black as burnt-out coals,

mirrors of his bitter soul;

lips up drawn to show his teeth

flashing fierce in scizzored jaws,

set in gums that drip and seethe

the rabid froth from which he draws.


And his breath!

Rancid as the rubbish he eats:

coffee grounds and tannic tea;

clotted cream and rotting cheese;

the sulfurous stench of cracked shells;

week-old fish that reeks of hell –

all we shed in vain disgust

is fitting food to feed his lust.


Enraged that I disturb his feast

he bends his head to meet my face

and sounds a rasping roar so deep

that I’m loathe to fight the death I taste.

But not to yield, I summon the will,

the stubborn Scot within me still:

I pound my fist into his snout

and claw his pus-encrusted eyes.


I raise my voice in fearsome shouts

that match his own ferocious cries.

But the old bear savors a good fight.

With every blow his rage just grows;

with every strain more might he shows.

He sinks his teeth into my thigh,

rolls me about from side to side

like some weightless toy he likes to play.


His strength’s too great to have my way.

Best, I judge, to just play dead,

lay my head against the earth,

cover my face, taste the dirt,

place myself in God’s good stead

until he tires of his sport

and wanders restlessly away

to spoil another poor soul’s day.


II

Perils of living in the woods.

Coiled here in this simple shack

of weathered planks and ill-fit stones

where all night long the cold wind blows

so fierce to make the thin walls shake

as I in dread lie hours awake

to hear him come to make his take.


Folks say I should leave this place,

go somewhere the weather’s fitting,

join them in the social city

where nights are brighter than the day

and voices drown all frightful sounds

that silence with its echoes makes.

I’d find a flat above the fray,

eat out, see plays,

occupy my fretful mind

with pleasures of the finer kind.


But I like it here, where I lie

in this house bequeathed to me,

beneath the stark and starry sky,

the wind that crashes like the sea.

People here are few but friendly.

We build fires on the blackest nights,

huddle around that ring of light

chanting rhymes that rise like flames

to purge the fears we cannot name.


Even winters, cruel though they be,

bring clarity to simple truths

when the killing frost strips the trees

to colors of the basest hues.

Days and days all look the same,

black and white and shades of gray,

when – joy! – appears a spot of red,

a cardinal perched, its regal head – so do the thoughts come clear to me

when fall the leaves to let me see.


What good would it do, besides,

to steal away by cover of night?

The bear would only follow me

in thought, if not in deed.

He’d find me where I hide away,

awake me with his raucous play.

No, he and are I meant to be

locked in lifelong reverie,

he to test me year by year

and I to fight what most I fear.


III

I’ll kill him one day.

Stalk him down where he sleeps

furled in that infested swamp.

Through the bracken brush I’ll creep

and when I’ve found his hallowed ground

I’ll shoot him with my biggest gauge:

once in the shoulder to bring him down,

once behind the ear to put him away.


I’ll slip my knife into his belly,

let his entrails flow like putrid jelly.

I’ll tear his heart out from his lungs,

still flowing hot with hateful blood,

and leave it there for the vultures,

a treat, to eat one as black as theirs.


I’ll drag him out six hundred pounds,

hang him from the tree unbound,

and like a crier in some war

I’ll run the road from door to door

and shout it out till I am hoarse:

The beast is dead!

The bloody beast is dead!


And we’ll revel all day long

with wine and dance and joyful song

that he is gone and can no more

haunt our dreams with his unsightly sores,

steal our sleep at day’s dear cost,

make us weep for what we’ve lost.


And when we all have had our fill

and drank a toast to happiness,

I’ll boil his black, inedible flesh

and feed the pieces to the dogs.

One beast deserves another.

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