A long way back from the sea, within
the hills that rise behind the village, fish
encounter the first of many barriers they must unpuzzle
in order to reach the pools in which they spawn.
The white bear is attuned to this season.
It duly ambles to its favoured spot
along its side of the river, awaiting fish.
Upon the river’s other side two girls
stand with their thumbs tucked
under the soft straps of their waxy leather packs.
They watch the bear, perched on its jut of rock,
how its eyes skim the movement of water:
a sleepy back and forth to its doggish head,
the same way an angler flicks his silvery thread
in loopy waves across a river’s top
before he is sure there are fish to be enticed.
To see fish jump is to see for a moment
the foamed-white fall of water opened up.
An oval split of black appears at the junction
where river below receives river above,
as though the flow had been relaxed, just enough
for the tumble of water to thin, the resultant fissure
revealing the shadow of rock behind; the small split
ripping briefly up the wet curtain, before the current
returns to full strength and the split closes up;
a black shadow of fish subsumed again by white.
Sometimes one of these splits shoots up
and over the lip of the fall, the smooth black
of its oblong so sharp in its cutting it opens
the base of white sky, for a moment,
before it’s re-swallowed by river.
Another, in pushing the void of its apex
at speed from the whiteness,
is jerked from its flight,
and in leaving its path prematurely
ceases at once to be shape—becomes fish.
Its sideways thrash about the claws
that have punctured its course, that have drawn it
clear from its universe of water.
undoing its white
from the white of the fall,
The fish: transferred from paw to jaw,
still flexing its singular muscle:
a sickle, inverting itself up/down
around the central fixture of firm-set teeth.
To one of the girls this is new. It enthrals her
to watch as the bear tears live strips of pink flesh
from the still-squirming fish, the surprise of its insides
let out: all that soft glossy muscle: fine-linered in red,
little rills of bright blood
washed away by stray river splashes.
of the fish
of the bear.
She wants to know how many fish must be eaten
before a whole bear can be made; what proportion
of fish are destined to end up as people; or if
there are some that will never be other than fish.
On the opposite side of the river
the white bear moves, reasserts
its grand proximity. The girl
halts her questions, steps back.
But bears have no need to cross over the river.
Except when winter comes late
and they wake without food,
test their weight upon bridges of ice
that grew up while they slept.