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.

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