Photos of Alaska
Oct. 31, 2010
Bear fur coats scale the snowy Chilkoot Pass, 1896. Each coat the size of John L. Sullivan’s mustache clings to a rope that looks like the mountain’s dark artery. Men inside the furs carry sewing machines on their backs. Even small pianos! One bundle looks like a dead horse wrapped in blankets! Mosquitoes as big as bats fill the air. Basket-sized cabbages grow from permafrost–– anything to challenge belief. The Gospels appear in native dialect!
Black under his angel robe, a polar bear rises thirteen feet high on his back feet. Native legend says bears turn human, slowly, while they cling to their animal thoughts. Ripon, Wisconsin, claims the bear’s attention this morning––the log cabin where the Republican party began. The bear shakes his head. He wonders what would make Ursus maritimus join anything that morphed out of Lincoln’s blossom into a swamp creature shaped like a shrub.
Caught up in thought on the verge of humanity, the bear stands motionless. He feels itchy and uncertain. Eventually, he follows a party of French mountaineers into the Brooks Range. What the hell, he thinks, try the French. They’re famous for unusual thoughts. He draws so close the hikers recognize his grizzled beard and blood-streaked pig’s eyes. Out in the open like this, away from town, the bear can’t remember the last time he stood upright. Or why.
David Steingass lives in Madison Wisconsin. He has published four books of poems, including Body Compass and American Handbook from the University of Pittsburgh Press, and Fishing for Dynamite and GreatPlains from Red Dragonfly Press, as well as three chapbooks. His new book. The Missing Half of the Light, prosepoems, will appear soon –– www.RedDragonflyPress.org .