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The She-Bear and the Man


The She-Bear and the Man
by  Sandi Leibowitz

I.

There’s folk who think him mad
or sick or damned.
Meanwhile, he knows there’s those who’d lose
a fortune or an arm or any hope of paradise
to find a woman who could give what She gives him.

In her clasp,
he breathes in yeasty scent of beast
before surrendering to her heat,
the simmering of centuries of summers.
The scent changes to a hundred scents
--mud, squirrel, a snapped twig of sassafras--
that merge and travel off on their own paths
like rivers meeting and parting.
Fur and flesh transform to bark and pith,
until he finds he understands
the language of canopy and tap-root.
He listens.

He hears the skitter of hooves on leaf-fall,
pump of owl-wing, mosquito-whine,
blue songs of streams,
drip of icycle, the pull
of sapling from the seed, burst of bud,
withering of bark, the cycle of
years and years, and even far above
the pulse of stars like distant heart-beat.

He doesn’t fear her,
never thinks the She-bear will grow bored,
erase him with a brutal paw-swipe.
He doesn’t mind the sharp white teeth
behind the forceful tongue,
forgetful claws that knead his back,
the playful wrestle that could snap him in half.
He might even think an early death
worth the price.

The only thing he doesn’t love about her
is her eyes,
glinty squints of black
that survey him sideways like a nose wrinkling
to avoid a stink.

But close his eyes and there She is,
Heart of the forest,
giver of green dreams.

II.

She is the one who doesn’t sleep
away the winter
but faces it, roar for roar,
claws sharper than blizzards.
Her chants tame the snows,
keep them to a small sum of their power,
just enough white to bury the bulbs
and birth the daffodils.

She came down from the north that day
thinking only of the sweet pop of berries
blue on the tongue,
young moss luscious under her paws,
and after that a mate
to fill her womb with cubs.

She’d never been one
to truck with men,
never found the Un-Beast charming
or lived off its refuse.
She is Storm-Singer, who
in a long-ago time
carved new rivers with her claws
for thirsty bears and won their worship.

But she has no taste for worship,
and bears have little taste for giving it.

She cannot say what force
made her turn towards the wood-smoke
of his campfire;
only that some instinct sure as
coaxing trout to paw
or chanting up a rain
to help the summer sumacs
called her to him,
said to take this man as hers,
to fix some balance wanting in the world.
It was not her need
but the forest’s.

She knows one day he’ll stumble from her den,
return to men,
but he’ll be changed,
an axe that pauses before it fells a single tree.

* * *

Sandi Leibowitz is a school librarian, classical singer and writer of speculative fiction and poetry. Her work appears in Liminality, Stone Telling, Inkscrawl, Mythic Delirium, Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year 5 and other magazines and anthologies. A native New Yorker, she has ridden in a hot-air balloon over the Rio Grande, traveled in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims to Santiago de la Compostella and visited with Arthur in Avalon.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

I have always loved words.  I was the nerdy kid who relished English assignments like making up sentences that used a given list of adjectives.  As a pre-teen and teen I used to type out favorite poems and passages from novels on my mother's old manual typewriter.  I love the look and sound of words, the way they can move you to tears, incite you to anger, or simply render you breathless.  I have always loved story.  And I have always wanted to be a writer.  It is indeed hard, sometimes, to keep at writing.  I'm beginning to publish a fair amount but it wasn't always so (and in fairness, I didn't submit much; it was hard enough to find the time to write!).  Even so, the rewards are not life-changing.  People do not toss roses before my feet as I stroll down the street.  I don't even think they do that for the likes of J.K. Rowling or Steven King.  What keeps me going is the desire to write the sorts of things I'd like to read--to give the inner dreams life and maybe even wings.

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