That winter, snow dusted the hemlock, each spiked cone.
Snow salted my hair—it was that long, that winter.
A black bear cub curled beside me, hers a dark honeyed sleep.
If this were a fable, one could sleep the whole winter
without interruption, that’s how long it felt as the bear cub
and I kept each other warm. She had no clamp, no shackle
or trap marks in her fur, of course I checked. Carefully,
I peeled fat gray ticks from her back, but I was gentle
then. Sometimes it was my turn to wade
waist-deep into the river, and that was fine. If we were
lucky, there were fish, though no fish would
consider this luck. Sometimes the bear cub seemed to stalk
a smell, sniffing, I assumed her mother, but it could
have been anything, that winter. You wonder what
there is to learn here, other than this isn’t a fable.
Other than, whenever I woke, the bear was a bear again.
Nathan McClain is the author of Scale (Four Way Books, 2017), a recipient of fellowships from The Frost Place, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a graduate of Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers. His poems and prose have recently appeared or are forthcoming in New York Times Magazine, upstreet, The Rumpus, Poem-a-Day, and Verse Daily. He teaches at Hampshire College.