the woman who married a bear

I’ve never seen a bear bared
to air, skinned to a pearled
blue the color of inside
shells or secrets. I’ve heard
hunters shudder how human
they look, hung there upright.
It reminds me of the bear who roamed
New Jersey with mangled feet,
lumbering on hind legs like a person
in fur, holding those poor
paws to his chest. Bipedal,
fans called him Pedals, and cried
when the hunter shot him.
All the ways a distance
can collapse or be crossed.
Everyone wants to see a bear,
warm and alive and running
away, like I saw one,
her rounded heavy rear,
pelt rippling as she plowed
uphill, putting the earth
between us. Her body dark
and round like the hole underground
where she curled, suspended, gathering
the braided medicines of sleep
and earth. In the old stories,
people who cross over never
quite return. Once I dreamed
my body was enveloped
by warm dark fur. It wasn’t a symbol
of you, or him, or the love I always
wanted from her—it was new—
dank breath and cool seeps
in the cave, wrapped by that
bear as if sleep there could carry
me back where I belong.

Anne Haven McDonnell lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her poetry chapbook, Living with Wolves, came out in fall 2020 with Split Rock Press.


  1. Annie, it’s a touching poem. beautiful, thanks

  2. Startling beginning — as of a dispassionate eye — then a feint to draw in my compassion with mention of Pedals, then a sly mention of the living bear, “her pelt rippling,” brought the circle back. You really got me with
    the braided medicines of sleep
    and earth.”
    Then, of course, our mutual journey (yours & the reader’s) to Otherworld.

    Beautifully realized!

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