Sarah Bates
Pacing Leo
​That summer Virginia Woolf said though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes.

When you show me the bear, all I can say is maybe clouds get buried around the tops of known trees, and not a single thing about pulling weeds, curtain rods, the way in which mosquitos couple on our lashes.

It’s what I tell myself every time I come home to the world as mistake. When one of my branches collides with someone else’s sky.

It’s that death to feeling.

They’re killing all the deer.

That fire to floating.

They don’t even know what’s happening.

It’s like I’m taking a photograph of my feet without meaning to.

That summer I cried over peeled wallpaper and rotting walls. Gray slippers and every other sock with holes. Your only pair of reading glasses stuck to the stairs. What’s worse, butterflies fading or butterflies gone. I’d replace mold for Georgian Revival Blue and fix everything they tell me you broke.

Four months later, I come home to a bear in the fridge. You tell me it’s a sport. To let you have it. All I can see are long limbs like black rocks, the way they used to stretch out to Route 66, but maybe there’s something wrong with my eyes.

Woolf called intellectual liberty the right to say or write what you think in your own words.

To return to an old place and name the bee’s stinger. To stick it between clouds.

To stand at the mouth of the bear and explain myself.

People always want to know what “it” means. They imagine a dead deer on the side of M28 or a poem with fewer guns. No, no guns. I think this is supposed to be a poem without guns. I imagine that they imagine the world made of feathers.

Forty miles into the Seney Stretch I learned to walk instead of speak.

In ancient Egypt, the huntsmen constituted a social class. They hunted on both sides of the Nile for gazelles, antelopes, fox, hyenas, and occasionally, the bear. They used nooses, arrows, darts, and nets, and at times, the lion was trained to hunt.

It’s like I’m peeling ladybugs to peel that old summer, picking this medium shade of ocean blue to feel less dizzy about what’s coming.

When I finally open the fridge, I’m confused by Vienna Lager and Virginia Bold Rock. I notice the edge of one beer’s label peeling off, damp, and wonder if it’s leftover from summer or last year’s winter, or some other season I can’t quite make out even with the brightest of blues.

This past June, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed several trails and backcountry campsites after a black bear attacked a teenage boy. According to park officials, the bear pulled some 16-year-old Athens, Ohio boy from his hammock at about 10:30 p.m., 4.5 miles from the Fontana Lake shoreline near Hazel Creek in North Carolina. At that hour, the moon, waxing gibbous, poured its white light into Fontana. I imagine it blinded the boy, but to the bear, the world now pinkish and pulsing.

“Right now, it’s breeding season, so males are really roaming” said Daniel Powell, coordinator of the Alabama Black Bear Alliance and past president of the Alabama Wildlife Federation. “We’re seeing males looking for a mate. In the bear world, males roam and the females stay at home.”

In 1948, George Gurdjieff’s “The Work” placed great emphasis on self-remembering. Paying attention to the present moment instead of wandering to the past or future.

That summer I sat under the Mother of the Forest and carved into your trunk a prayer. To never love a man who loved like my father. Back home, an old carton of almond milk spoiling, and how sometimes seeing both means seeing less well.

He was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder soon after he and my mom separated. I was standing in baggage claim at the Atlanta airport when my mom called to tell me how it had been coming for a while. They were just waiting for the right time. To do the right thing. I had just graduated from college and had spent a few weeks in Italy before starting my first job as a teacher. On the conveyor belt, an unclaimed Dora the Explorer suitcase for the third time.

I remember listening like you were the sound of hungry beetles across South Dakota.

And so everything became unloved. Every painting by the Duomo, every sun hitting our Japanese Cherry tree in spring. I wanted to go back to Florence and paint every bridge black.

And who cares? You can get a divorce for $149 at

For $149, you can cancel, reorganize, dissolve.

A few days before heading back to Michigan, you joke about having bear for dinner.

You know I’d been trying to eat vegan since August, but when I come home in December, I stop trying. I am afraid people will love me less without a cheeseburger on my plate. Without the same shade of hunger in my mouth.

In the morning, you head for the mountains. You take the dogs with you and lead them to the scent of the bear. You turn the dogs loose. You explain how each bear is different. Some run and run and run. Some go right up the tree, but others stay on the ground and fight. You tell me this year most are skinny, how one was blind.

What makes something the hunter and not the hunted? What makes something both?

That summer the walls of our hundred-year-old house felt like something I couldn’t mess up. One of my friends helps me pick a color for the bathroom, but after I start peeling wallpaper, I realize they already are. I can tell someone else has already attempted to fix these walls and now I was messing that up too. On the wallpaper, only wings. Behind it, the dawn and dusk of antennae.

I’d had Georgian Revival Blue picked out over a week and had spent a couple days spackling and filling in holes when you tell me you just aren’t ready for me to paint. I tell you the dust is made of wormy chestnut. You focus on the front yard’s dying dogwood and take the ladder with you.

For $149, I wanted someone to come and fix what I had started.

That summer I was a witness. He tells me it’s no big deal, all I’ll have to do is answer some really simple questions, sign something, and then leave. Into the parking lot I spill past a trunk flooded with Floating Blue and use both my hands to diagram the turbulence of time.

You’re sorry. You don’t know anyone else who would come. You didn’t know anyone that summer. And how