A poem from my up-coming collection ‘Dying is forbidden in Longyearbyen’ (Nordland Publishing).
The Passing Of The Longest Night
The thick scent of bear
drives under the cabin door.
I put my head against the cold
floorboards. I can hear him move.
The dog is barking. Father tells
me to wrap up warm, be ready.
There is dirt stuffed deep between
the groves of my boots from this
morning, when we collected snow
shoe hares from their traps.
Mine was the only one still alive.
Father showed me where to place
my hands, where to apply pressure.
I fondled its pelt, pale as my shoulders
on the first day of summer.
Father told me to hang it around
my neck and hurry up.
He said the muck on my boots
was bear shit.
He said that the soft, dense smelling
dirt had fallen from the backside
of a big male, getting ready to
retreat under earth.
After the last dog had his belly ripped
open and eaten, I asked if we could bring
in the new one. I got a clip on the ear.
The bear moves away. He is heavy,
stocked with sacred fuel.
After the first gunshot, I move outdoors.
I can’t see my father on his eerie harvest,
but this bear is a screamer.
I wonder if he was the runt
of a cluster of cubs.
The forest night kisses Father’s bullets,
but it don’t bless them. They land deep
in tree trunks and are silenced.
I can smell his gun and know exactly
when he makes the killing shot.
The silence is tight. Nothing moves.
The morning after and the bear
wears a crown of frost.
There are bloody frozen prints,
tufts of fur missing from his
There will be plenty
of warm nests this winter.
I lean on his joints until they crack apart.
Cold air sets in my mouth as I move
around the body of this giant berserker.
My father says we have to move
quickly. He reminds me that
at certain points of decay,
a bear’s forearms and paws
resemble that of a human.
There is no real celebration in my heart,
as father pulls back the skin, revealing
solid, cold flesh marbled with clean white fat.
I feel guilty for having feelings,
for not keeping my hunter instincts close.
The cabin is warm with sleep, but there
is the presence of everything dead.
I imagine ghostly armies of bears
moving soundlessly through the trees.
This evening we ate good meat, intense
with flavour. We ate both eyeballs,
the brain and tongue.
I wish I had chance to smell him
properly before the end, while his breath
still made clouds around his wet snout.
I wish I’d pushed my face
into his dense fur, and breathed
everything from his life into my lungs.
I’d have told him that real freedom
is on the other side of this sorry place.
I taste my forbidden sadness,
try to swallow it whole and fail.