I guess the problem with the bear was he wouldn’t die.
It started Tuesday of last week. We brought him to the town square,
rope tied tight around his neck. It was there, in the center
of it all, children watching, bedraggled as they’d all become,
we were to do it, anoint him with our sins, cut him from this life.
It was there he came to die. It was, to say the least, depressing.
The first problem was he was beautiful. Not in a conventional way,
you wouldn’t say, that bear is so beautiful, he rose in none of us
an urge, being that he was, after all, a bear. Maybe the word
I searched for was regal, his ears high on his head like a king
or queen, his scent unmistakable, virginal like a full breath
after a storm, or a mouth full of dirt. Umami, someone whispered
in my ear, which I took to mean earthy. Maybe it was his look of unflinching
ease, like a movie star done up with expensive, dingy clothes.
I called him bohemian, then we started to sing, and the geographers
corrected us on the inaccuracy of this label and pointed to a map,
the historians told us this was far beyond the pale. And yet,
there was something to his fur, dirty and matted, maybe it was sad
how much thicker his neck was than I had thought it would be.
They had asked me to see him earlier. I was, after all, the one.
They wanted to see my collection of knives. They wanted it clean.
They wanted the head left to remind us of what we were
capable of, its beauty dipped in red ink, an erasure of us all,
a sign to the heavens, a list of what we no longer were.
The problem was my tools were not in the best shape.
My knives pitted, their tips rusted from poor care. They,
whoever they were, were concerned, not surprisingly,
that the blade’s quality might be under what was needed.
And right they were, it seemed, when I swung down
what was a moon-shaped blade I kept for just this type of killing,
I made it only half way through his neck, his bays growing louder
as his head hung sideways, his feet still kicking. I wanted everyone
to know I had fallen in love with this beast. I had to.
He was endlessly loveable. I swung down again, a new blade,
and missed the spot, cutting to the same point, it was gruesome.
It was unparalleled, the screams growing from the children
we brought to show what we were capable of, the old men
who came to see the old ways practiced one last time.
A man walked forward and put his hand on my back,
an offering of support, I thought, I swung down again,
harder this time, knowing all violence is for show.
Steven Kleinman’s poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia, where he teaches poetry at the University of the Arts, and he is a founding member of the Philadelphia Poetry Collaboration.