Great Food Poetry, Part Four–“The Bear”

The great American poet Galway Kinnell gives us the greatest gross out poem of all time. Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation once again.

The Bear

BY GALWAY KINNELL
         1
In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam   
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored   
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.

         2
I take a wolf’s rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out   
on the fairway of the bears.

And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark   
splash on the earth.

And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.

         3
On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would   
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,   
and rise
and go on running.

         4
On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,   
steamy hulk,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.

I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,   
the dismayed
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
flared, catching
perhaps the first taint of me as he
died.

I hack
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,   
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
and sleep.

         5
And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,   
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.

         6
Until one day I totter and fall—
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,   
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze   
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood   
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,

blows across
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up   
and dance. And I lie still.

         7
I awaken I think. Marshlights
reappear, geese
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lies, licking
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the next,
the next,
the rest of my days I spend
wandering: wondering
what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?


Galway Kinnell, “The Bear” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.Source: Three Books (2002)

Now that is a poem about food. Digest that one.

Great Food Poetry, Part III–“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church”

Emily Dickinson, aka the Belle of Amherst, is my favorite poet. This poem has an orchard in it, so it fits the category.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)

BY EMILY DICKINSON

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

Thanks again to the Poetry Foundation for making these poems available to everyone.

Not to get too nerdy, but I’ve always linked this poem to the Protestant reformation, and it just so happens that the surplice is a part of the clerical vestments that was rejected by the Puritans, leading more than a few of them to emigrate to Massachusetts. Ms. Dickinson is too clever for words.

Great Food Poetry, Part I–“Terence, This is Stupid Stuff”

A favorite poet of mine, A. E. Housman, wrote this classic in 1896. It still applies today.


A.E. Housman, 1896

“‘Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, ’tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.’

Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I’ve lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
‘Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.

I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.”

Now that’s what I call a poem. I think I’ll have a beer now.