The bear puts both arms around the tree above her
And draws it down as if it were a lover
And its chokecherries lips to kiss good-by,
Then lets it snap back upright in the sky.
I once penned a flash fiction about Robert Frost standing atop a TV while wearing hot pants, though I’m not sure why. Possibly it was because I was sitting (or shall I saw sprawling like an octopus?) in a room (probably yellowed and mildewed or smelling like cheese) and heard a teacher glare to me “Robert Frost was the first poet on TV” and I had this sudden concrete image “ON the TV” and I just coagulated. My desired object is an empty TV with flowers inside the fractured shell, but have never been motivated enough to go ahead and create the damn thing. Back in Alabama I held prayer with fire ants and took a Dante class and walked into the room and the professor started speaking to us, in Italian. I walked out the room. That’s a tip: eject the class, OK? Don’t gurgle an F. An F FOLLOWS you around like a cheerleader’s debt. Did I mention I had a student faint last year? Like a gelatinous flower to the floor. It can be rough in academia, I know that. Yesterday I graded 400 papers about Facebook, bioengineering, treacle addiction, and the pseudoscience of experiments on happiness. It was interesting. I can read really quickly like a door. I used to teach Robert Frost waaaayyy back in the day when people used balloons for travel and the world was basically either a dog or a car window and people would allow me to teach literature and students would plagiarize their papers on Frost and it would be the FIRST THING I Googled, like LAZY plagiarism, and I would stomp my little foot and print it out and staple it to their assignments all sideways and crinkly with coffee stains and hand it back with a big fat ZERO and one time this young lady cried and cried and cried. Young lady who is not near as young anymore–I am sorry I made you cry. Shit does happens, though, when you plagiarize. Think about if you tried to plagiarize a whale, for example. I would staple your plagiarized whale onto a real whale, and contemplate that, the potential consequences of a beached, bloody, stapled whale just leaking all over your fabulous green sweater. When I think of Frost I think of people lying to horses and riding trees or back in Memphis when I used to swing on grapevines all over the forest. I would also smoke grapevine like a god. Grapevine is basically a very useful plant for kids. I penned again about Frost last week. I said something about liking to play tennis without a net. You know, Frost lost his father and his kids (one to suicide) and had to commit family members to mental institutions and was generally well acquainted with the night. I think this is why he wrote about nature. Nature is nature. Humans are nature, but we stand removed from its essence. We are anti-nature and nature. Nature is nature. The hawk is the hawk is the hawk. Humans…well.
The mother told about the time she’d seen a bear. A bear the size of several men, she said. There in the woods behind our house, when I was still a girl like you. The mother had stood in wonder watching while the bear ate a whole deer. It ate the deer’s cheeks, its eyes, its tongue, its pelt. It ate everything but the antlers. The mother had waited for the bear to leave so she could take the antlers home and wear them, but the bear had just gone on laying, stuffed, smothered in blood. The mother swore then—her eyes grew massive in the telling—the bear had spoken. It’d looked right at the mother and said, quite casual, My god, I was hungry. Its voice was gorgeous, deep and groaning. The mother could hardly move. I didn’t know bears could talk, she said finally, and the bear had said, Of course we can. It’s just that no one ever takes the time to hear. We are old and we are lonely and we have dreams you can’t imagine.
That’s an excerpt from Scorch Atlas, still my favorite book of Blake’s. I like Blake Butler, I do, as an author and a human being. As is my way I once shot his book (I only shoot books I admire) and I know for a fact I set it on fire and maybe even detonated an explosive nearby can’t remember and was drinking, my head like a wobbly hog. Who knows? My heart is oft a drowsy box. But one thing you might want to ponder is putting a bear into your brain bucket. It is wise.
Here’s a little piece I wrote for my book, Fog Gorgeous Stag. Like much of the book, the text is utterly senseless, but I did add a bear (carrying a cross) to sort of tidy up the logic. Without the bear, the piece had all the gravitas of decaffeinated coffee. With the bear included, the words now have a certain savage indignation, a flavor of tormented loves and guarded epiphanies alongside the obvious aesthetic statement defining the project entire. Here, let me show you:
Chilly and Feeling Weak
A glass bowl of disposable lighters. A bowl of fireworks. A little wind-up dog. An altar made of still-warm meat yet hung. Glass stains. Bears with crosses. Curtains ironing the waxes out of candles. In the words of all: “The prayer of continuing any act simply because we started the act, Amen.” A gilded sling shot. Fact: Not one person saved. Fact: I enjoy the swish of rain sweeping a roof, most any roof, and so attended gloomy days. Fact: Velvet is a tangled clod. Fact: All over the world. Fact: Relentless and horrible rain. Fact: A philosophy of quietism. Fact: Ugly contrasts. Fact: Urns and earns, a form of learning. Fact: Instability. Fact: An old-fashioned coward. Fact: A walk now and then, a falling forward. Fact: An underwater house. Fact: A neon sign above the two bowls. Fact: It read SHARE.
[technology is lonely
a properly folded flag impossible to unfold
without major damage]
One time the writer Tao Lin said, “In my room I have a bearsuit but I haven’t done anything sexual with it. I like looking at a pretty face when doing something sexual. I don’t know if I would feel aroused if I looked at a fish head or like a donkey’s mouth while doing something sexual. I do understand and believe that people are able to “get off” on those things though. I don’t doubt their arousal or pleasure.”
Wow, people talk a lot of shit about Tao Lin, but you know what they hardly ever talk about? He used to be really, really funny. Is he funny now? I don’t know. I have not read any of his current books. But back in the day, glow funny. Here you go:
(BTW: Tao Lin’s syllabus, if you are interested in the contemporary short story or want a site with some glow links to stories online.)
let me go eat some salmon
why are there coke cans in the river
what if i wore a bullet proof vest during hunting season
i’m a bear; i walk in the forest and look at the river and the river is cold
i saw campers today and they ran away and i was alone and i destroyed their tent
let me go scratch my paw on a tree
let me go eat a salmon
last night i cried onto my salmon
the salmon was sad but it still wanted to live
it wanted to swim and be sad and i ate it under moonlight
i saw a moose scream the other day
it screamed quietly under a tree
i felt embarrassed and sad and i thought, ‘oh, no; oh god, oh my god’
sometimes i climb a tree and sit there and sing very quietly
sometimes i want to go to a shopping mall and chase the humans and claw them
i’ll ride the moose into the shopping mall and ram the humans
the moose and i will ride the escalator and i will hug the moose and the moose and i will cry
i will eat the moose
i don’t care
i will scream and throw the bubblegum machine from the second floor to the first floor
i felt compassion for the salmon and now i don’t care anymore
i’ll walk into a parking lot and chase a large human and hug the human and cry
i’ll walk into a house at night and push the humans off the bed
i’ll stare at the bed and i’ll feel fake
One of my favorite bear stories gnashes a sense of place with excellent characterization. It is over at Smokelong Quarterly and is titled, “Imagines He’s a Bear.” Ryan Dilbert. Dilbert matured on an island and I actually know someone who let Ryan Dilbert give them a tattoo. That’s trust. I had an ER patient once at Denver Health Medical Center and he had, in GIANT letters, exactly this numeral tattooed on his forehead: 666. That, my friends, is questionable judgement. I had an ER patient who called me (I was working the midnight phones) and asked for directions to the ER. He was angry at a nursing assistant and wanted to come shoot her with a gun. I had an ER patient once who attempted to open the doors of a passenger jet while in flight. I had an ER patient once who…oh, never mind. I’m writing about bears! I have a tattoo of a blazing sun on my shoulder. The sun is the source of all life. Maybe. Three strong drinks later.
See how Ryan Dilbert constructs a little world here? See how HE USES A BEAR!? I’m asking you to listen to me. I’m asking you to understand the effectiveness of bears. Bears will make your prose something to be worshiped from afar, like a mountain range or a spicy, adulterous affair, for example. Your poetry, if immersed within bears, will most likely shine like a mini-skirt. Place a bear within your argument for the legalization of marijuana and we’ll all be very high, very soon. I’m offering you a chance to improve your writing. This is a writing blog, sometimes. A bear is your chance to say, Fuck decorum. A bear is subversive. A bear is like inviting an angel into your house for pizza and then beating the angel in UNO. A bear is fresh. I’m trying to give you a writing tip here, but I get the distinct feeling you are not listening. Are you on Facebook? I bet you are! I could be wrong. Maybe you’re actually listening. OK, sorry. That was presumptuous of me.
Insert a bear in your art. Please.
Here is “The Bear and the Skunk” by Ben Tanzer.
Over at bearcreekfeed, we have a magazine with the word “bear” embedded within the title of the magazine. There is also work by some strong authors.
Write a story in which your character has a problem:
“Henry, there’s a bear at the door.”
The problem should be significant:
“Henry, it’s huge.”
The problem should be pressing:
“Henry, I think it’s trying to get in.”
The story begins by establishing not only that something is wrong, but that your character has to act. ….
…. If Henry is to deal with the problem, he has to find the bear within himself:
“Henry! Do something!”
The tension in the story comes from the battle between the challenge and the character’s need to face the problem. What will Henry do?
Here is a little poem for you:
Although Hopkins admitted to smoking
marijuana before arriving at work, I cannot
conclude based on the evidence that the major
contributing cause of the grizzly bear attack
was anything other than the grizzly. It is not as
if this attack occurred when Hopkins inexplicably
wandered into the grizzly pen while
searching for the nearest White Castle. When
a grizzly bear is sighted on a trail in Glacier
National Park, the trail is closed to all hikers,
not just the hikers who may have recently
smoked marijuana. When it comes to attacking
humans, grizzlies are equal-opportunity
maulers, attacking without regard to race,
creed, ethnicity, or marijuana use. Hopkins’s
use of marijuana to kick off a day of working
around grizzly bears was ill-advised to say the
least, and mind-bogglingly stupid to say the
most. However, I have been presented with no
evidence by which I can conclude that Hopkins’s
marijuana use was the major contributing
cause of the grizzly bear attack.
A few days ago a person commented that Jim Harrison was a poor poet. That person can kiss my ass. I hope a bear eats his mother’s bras. Jim Harrison is a very good poet, and I consider his “Letters to Yesenin” to be one of my all time glow books. Today, let’s look at two poems Mr. Harrison wrote about bears. In the first poem, the speaker releases a kept bear; in the second, the speaker eats bear and then dreams of bear (a repeating motif in Harrison’s work–characters who eat bear often have bear dreams). To Harrison the bear is always holy. Although Harrison himself is a hunter, he clearly see hunting bear as absurd, or simply as the wrong thing to do. I would have to agree. Go ahead and read the poems. Go. Right now.
I met Steve Himmer at a tire store once. The tire store was converted into an artist space and Steve Himmer and I (and way too many other people) were reading that evening. You know lately people have been inviting WAY too many fucking poets to readings. Chill on that, OK? Invite four tops, not 14. Jesus. Who wants to hear that much poetry? Or have to be near that many poets? Poets! We have to stand here alongside all these poets? Steve was a nice guy, BTW, and he’s not a poet, so what am I even talking about? It makes you wonder. We ran out of beer that evening.
Over at JMWW, Steve writes:
So I was alone in the house when I walked into the kitchen to hunt down a snack and nearly tripped over a bear. He was sound asleep like a mountain, his humped reflection carrying into the distance of the oven’s glass door. His fur shivered in a breeze from the back door he’d left open and dry leaves skittered like mice on the tiles. The lower cabinets were emptied of pots and pans as if the bear had been looking for something and exhausted himself in the process.
Big Cages by Kim Chinquee
She sleeps with the tiger. She rests on his shoulder and touches his fur. He is meaty and gentle, with big teeth he only shows with a yawn. She wakes from a dream and feels the tiger’s paw on her arm, and she wonders if there is a boy, her boy, in the next room. Not really a boy now. A man with a stuffed bear, and the bear is getting up to use the bathroom. She looks at her husband—in her dream there is Discovery, that mirage, the circus, tigers in big cages, a man, a bear, a trapeze artist. She hears flushing from the bathroom. She starts to get up to check if the bear is real and is her son a boy or man now? She moves closer to her husband. She pulls herself under him, like a blanket, hearing his heart thump evenly.
One time I was trout fishing in the mountains (the odor of wet stone, tall grass stirring in the breeze, trout “sifting like silt in the green dark”) above Knoxville and I just had this odd feeling and I looked behind me and there it was, a large black bear. It was crossing the creek. It paused midstream and stared at me. My god its head was the size of a tomato farm. I looked right into its face and thought, “It’s cool, bear.” And it looked at me a moment and thought, “It’s cool, human. I suppose.” Then it faded into the forest.