Guilt by Timothy Green


A black bear lounges in the cheatgrass,
chewing at our trash. It must have found
the chicken we’d forgotten in the freezer.
Five pounds of free range meat, meaning
that when the meat could move, the bird

had its own two square feet in which
it could turn its two feet. That if it so chose,
it didn’t have to touch its neighbor. At one
end of the grow-house was a door to the sky.
How the brighter light must have beckoned.

By law, that door must be open half the day.
The dirt run on the other side must have one
living plant. But the birds don’t care. Bred
for their size and stupidity, they spend their
40 days at the feed trough, gaining strength

in the constant jostle for premium space.
It’s not unlike the bears in Alaska who fight
for the right to have salmon leap into their
mouths. But also it’s different. For three years
in our freezer, water from that warehouse

that was stored in the muscle of our chicken
sublimated and refroze, forming ice where
the ice shouldn’t be. Now the meat isn’t tender.
But the black bear doesn’t care, and its fur
is a cinnamon. It looks so soft in the sunlight

that it calls us all to sleep. Soon we’ll call
our bravest neighbor, who will run at the bear
with a pair of pots. From a distance we’ll join
in the banging. It’s for his own good.
A problem bear might be shot. But for now,

let him eat. Body numb with impossible pleasure,
only his mouth is moving, his muzzle buried
in the grease and the goo of the garbage bag,
as if these were the fallen shards of heaven.
For a black bear in the dry grass, they are.


Timothy Green works as editor of Rattle and is the author of American Fractal (Red Hen Press). He also serves on the board of the Wrightwood Arts Center and is a contributing columnist for the Press-Enterprise.

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