All summer I made friends
with the creatures nearby ---
they flowed through the fields
and under the tent walls,
or padded through the door,
grinning through their many teeth,
looking for seeds,
suet, sugar; muttering and humming,
opening the breadbox, happiest when
there was milk and music. But once
in the night I heard a sound
outside the door, the canvas
bulged slightly ---something
was pressing inward at eye level.
I watched, trembling, sure I had heard
the click of claws, the smack of lips
outside my gauzy house ---
I imagined the red eyes,
the broad tongue, the enormous lap.
Would it be friendly too?
Fear defeated me. And yet,
not in faith and not in madness
but with the courage I thought
my dream deserved,
I stepped outside. It was gone.
Then I whirled at the sound of some
Did I see a black haunch slipping
back through the trees? Did I see
the moonlight shining on it?
Did I actually reach out my arms
toward it, toward paradise falling, like
the fading of the dearest, wildest hope ---
the dark heart of the story that is all
the reason for its telling?
Once, a thrice of decades ago, I was in a tent on a New Mexico plateau. In the night there came a sniffing and prodding at the tent, much as Mary describes in her poem. The animal(s) circled many times and I held my breath trying to not be noticed in the silence, and to also listen. Were those the feet of bear, coyote, wolf? And depending on which, what was the best strategy? To charge, to run, to cower? I had no weapon in the tent. Fear defeated me and I had no courage to step outside to see who was stalking my body and my house for possible food.
Since that time whenever I go camping, I take something to bludgeon life with me in the tent - a bat, a golf club, my camping knives. I've heard too many bear stories to have my life story end with, "The bear ran with her off into the wilds and she was never seen again."
Yet, what better ending might there be? To be taken into the wilds, to become one with teeth, earth, the spring's cubs, and droppings?
In fact, is any other ending possible?
How would you have your life end?