Waiting for the Bear
For Bill

Alone this time, I raise the tent, weigh its
corners down with granite half-moons and fists.

In San Francisco you are trying to sit up,
loose skin above the red incision gathered
into a grey pouch beneath your chin.
Last week they sawed through ribs, the brittle
insistent arcs of bone and, lifting your heart
in gloved hands, attached the new veins.
I was there with your wife before you woke up.
I have not touched your chest since our
grown daughters were in nursery school.

Eighteen summers in the high Sierra.
Half wild with fear, I acted the father's part,
loading sleeping bags and camp stoves
into my car, telling our girls that the world
was safe, that they could do anything.
Lakes blue-green above the tree line,
thunderheads blooming behind Ebbett's Pass,
the split-second texture of lightning.
Range cattle lowered their horns
and chased us down the Mosquito Creek trail.
Those summers I nursed an angry joy
at being able to do it all without you.
Nights were terrifying. I waited for the bear.

Eighteen years a Sunday father, you were good
at making brunch and driftwood fires. Our daughters
sprawled in your enormous pillows, reading.
You were good at the helm of a boat gauging
the lift and slide of water, danger still something
you courted too, the girls along for the ride.

The bear patrolled his territory each August.
Crescent moon balanced above the incense cedar,
full moon whitening dogwood leaves,
no moon, wind crooning across solid rock,
he came, not as wild spirit but as a reckoning.
How had I dared try to raise these girls alone?
Once the bear ripped two cars open
as we watched. Most years he simply walked by.

I chose places where I couldn't phone
to hear you say Everything will be all right.
We went higher and higher, packed up to Matthes Lake
miles beyond Tuolumne Meadows, slept on stone,
trip lines strung with drinking cups linking our packs together.
Stars wheeled above us and when he came
his footsteps shook the granite. It felt
as if we had spread our bodies on a drum.

Now, no children to protect, the woods hold nothing
to keep me awake. I think of you
in that hospital, how the years deprive us
of our fondest grudges, our most elaborate fears.
Tonight, no tin cups banging, no reprieves,
the massive feet shuffling away. You and I are both waiting.
Oh, my dear friend, it is not the bear who comes.


Poems by Sharon Fain:

Snowy Owl
Getting It Right
A Birth
Waiting for the Bear
Screen Saver
Losing the Drought
Isla Mujeres: Weeks Before the Breakdown
On Hearing Jack Gilbert Talk About Death
One Month at Casa Sotovento
Out on the Deck at Sirens
Waiting to Hear About the Biopsy
Elvis at Chiang Mai
High Desert
Letters From Sarajevo
On Seeing the Place Where I First Made Love

TIMES TEN: An Anthology of Northern California Poets