The animals from the backyard
of my childhood
who crawled under fences
and into dryers: they’re coming back.
They march out of the miniature cemetery by the porch,
overturning painted rocks that mark their places,
disrupting the bark my father laid,
making new tracks
over the tracks I made.
The North Pole has been frozen for one hundred thousand years.
One hundred thousand years later, I have tranquilized
a polar bear. I fondle its black polar bear claws
and cup its black polar bear nose
in my hand. It has no recourse.
I could dress the polar bear in a Big & Tall men’s suit,
move a safe distance away, then watch it wake
and stand, a furry white behemoth of a man.
I could de-claw it, put a muzzle on it, take it back overseas.
I could let it live in the backyard
or sleep in bed with me.
I could take a plane home.
There are crevasses in the ice a thousand feet deep.
I can hear the water trickling down them, measure
their depth with echo sounders.
I could also throw the polar bear in a crevasse,
though once it was down there, I wonder,
would it call to me? I have fallen in love, anyway,
with the tranquilized polar bear.
I have never seen anything so sweet.
No human could be so sweet.
Paws on the wheel, I’m coursing through
a concrete tunnel thirty feet under the crust of the earth.
I am a cat in girl clothing, I am a racehorse learning
to swim. My hair is a fabric of thistles.
My hands knead unguis-like
when I tell them to grip.
I have never seen anything
quite so vulnerable as the heavy bear
collapsed at my feet, its claws innocuous as feathers,
its teeth tree stumps rooted in black gums.
There is always the threat of awakening. I do not touch the polar bear
except to raise its white polar bear ear and whisper into it:
You’re coming home.
WORD FOR UNFAMILIARITY WITH ONE’S OWN BODY
In a burn manual I read that we must apply ice to burns immediately
because as long as we are not applying ice,
the burn is still spreading under our skin.
In other words, the heat carries on until it’s stopped.
In a way, we are still on fire. In a way, that fire can spread from our fingertip
to our wrist to our arm, infinitely outward, until the whole of us is on fire
and there is not enough ice in the world to put us out.
Surely that isn’t what the burn manual meant.
It’s hard to take this advice seriously because it contradicts sensation.
Surely I would know if I was on fire.
Surely a fire underneath would turn my skin to flames.
Surely ice is a salve and not a cure.
The word for this dissonance is heat-confusion.