The Bear is licking her babies. Born without shape, the babies are smooth, hairless balls of flesh. Formless as dirt, the babies are crying. The mother Bear licks and licks with her wide blue tongue, slicking off the first layer of slime and sleep.
The mother Bear holds one ball in her giant paws. The baby is as big as an acorn, smaller than the Bear’s clawed thumb. The Bear eats some of her babies, thinking they are berries. She has been asleep for a long, long time, sleeping alone in her cave all winter. She is, like all animals, periodically starving, her black fur matted with bat droppings and four-month-old honey. She swallows her babies like regret. The survivors squirm in her paws.
The Bear licks off the first skin to reveal another: soft black hair like an Asian baby’s. Her tongue is pointed and indiscriminate. Her ideas are rough—not thought so much as the compulsion to clean her mess of offspring, one of which begins to scream, its mouth a brown slit, making a sound only Bears can hear.
The mother Bear drops this baby, flinging it to the ground in one decisive sweep. In that moment the baby becomes a cub, adorable and slightly grown, someone the mother Bear can talk to about her thwarted ambitions, her absent lover, the pain of giving birth during hibernation.
. . . as the Bear enters the dome through his mother’s womb and exits through the shaft of an arrow, which has pierced his heart. In between: wild rice, dark blue apples, bowls of greens cooked to warm perfection. The cage of birchwood that he could have broken at any point, but chose not to. The golden chain around his neck, similarly symbolic. His brown fur combed smooth by the village children and oiled by the women. The Orator reciting stories of his enchanted birth and noble lineage, as he drifts off to sleep each night.
No mother after the first week of life.
No other bears in sight. The smell of roasted seal and auk. No promises, only intimations.
the sudden drop of
at the end of the tunnel—the
Anna Maria Hong’s poetry collection, Age of Glass, won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s 2017 First Book Poetry Competition. Her novella, H & G, won the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Clarissa Dalloway Prize and was published by Sidebrow Books. Both titles were selected for Entropy magazine’s Best Books of 2018. Her second poetry collection, Fablesque, won Tupelo Press’s Berkshire Prize and is forthcoming in early 2020. A former Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, she has published work in The Nation, The Iowa Review, Ecotone, Fence, Jacket2, Poetry, Poetry Daily, and The Best American Poetry. She teaches literature and creative writing at Bennington College.