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Bear Fat & Rabbits and Fire

Two poems, by Linda Hogan and Alberto Ríos, follow wolves, jackrabbits, and other animals across the harsh Great Plains and Sonoran Desert. Both poets join wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin, film director Chris Eyre, Native American scholars Philip Deloria and Stephanie Fitzgerald, and a chorus of students to discuss how the poems call back difficult histories of human migration in the American west.

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Read the Poem

Bear Fat & Rabbits and Fire

Bear Fat
BY LINDA HOGAN

When the old man rubbed my back
with bear fat
I dreamed the winter horses
had eaten the bark off trees
and the tails of one another.

I slept a hole into my own hunger
that once ate lard and bread
from a skillet seasoned with salt.

Fat was the light
I saw through
the eyes of the bear
three bony dogs leading men
into the grass-lined caves of sleep
to kill hunger
as it slept itself thin.

They grew fat
with the swallowed grease.
They ate even the woodash
after the fire died
and when they slept,
did they remember back
to when they were wolves?

I am afraid of the future
as if I am the bear
turned in the stomach
of needy men
or the wolf become a dog
that will turn against itself
remembering what wildness was
before the crack of a gun,
before the men tried to kill it
or tame it
or tried to make it love them.

Rabbits and Fire
BY ALBERTO RIOS

Everything’s been said
But one last thing about the desert,
And it’s awful: During brush fires in the Sonoran desert,
Brush fires that happen before the monsoon and in the great,
Deep, wide, and smothering heat of the hottest months,
The longest months,
The hypnotic, immeasurable lulls of August and July —
During these summer fires, jackrabbits —
Jackrabbits and everything else
That lives in the brush of the rolling hills,
But jackrabbits especially —
Jackrabbits can get caught in the flames,
No matter how fast and big and strong and sleek they are.
And when they’re caught,
Cornered in and against the thick
Trunks and thin spines of the cactus,
When they can’t back up any more,
When they can’t move, the flame —
It touches them,
And their fur catches fire.
Of course, they run away from the flame,
Finding movement even when there is none to be found,
Jumping big and high over the wave of fire, or backing
Even harder through the impenetrable
Tangle of hardened saguaro
And prickly pear and cholla and barrel,
But whichever way they find,
What happens is what happens: They catch fire
And then bring the fire with them when they run.
They don’t know they’re on fire at first,
Running so fast as to make the fire
Shoot like rocket engines and smoke behind them,
But then the rabbits tire
And the fire catches up,
Stuck onto them like the needles of the cactus,
Which at first must be what they think they feel on their skins.
They’ve felt this before, every rabbit.
But this time the feeling keeps on.
And of course, they ignite the brush and dried weeds
All over again, making more fire, all around them.
I’m sorry for the rabbits.
And I’m sorry for us
To know this.

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Bear Fat
BY LINDA HOGAN

When the old man rubbed my back
with bear fat
I dreamed the winter horses
had eaten the bark off trees
and the tails of one another.

I slept a hole into my own hunger
that once ate lard and bread
from a skillet seasoned with salt.

Fat was the light
I saw through
the eyes of the bear
three bony dogs leading men
into the grass-lined caves of sleep
to kill hunger
as it slept itself thin.

They grew fat
with the swallowed grease.
They ate even the woodash
after the fire died
and when they slept,
did they remember back
to when they were wolves?

I am afraid of the future
as if I am the bear
turned in the stomach
of needy men
or the wolf become a dog
that will turn against itself
remembering what wildness was
before the crack of a gun,
before the men tried to kill it
or tame it
or tried to make it love them.

Rabbits and Fire
BY ALBERTO RIOS

Everything’s been said
But one last thing about the desert,
And it’s awful: During brush fires in the Sonoran desert,
Brush fires that happen before the monsoon and in the great,
Deep, wide, and smothering heat of the hottest months,
The longest months,
The hypnotic, immeasurable lulls of August and July —
During these summer fires, jackrabbits —
Jackrabbits and everything else
That lives in the brush of the rolling hills,
But jackrabbits especially —
Jackrabbits can get caught in the flames,
No matter how fast and big and strong and sleek they are.
And when they’re caught,
Cornered in and against the thick
Trunks and thin spines of the cactus,
When they can’t back up any more,
When they can’t move, the flame —
It touches them,
And their fur catches fire.
Of course, they run away from the flame,
Finding movement even when there is none to be found,
Jumping big and high over the wave of fire, or backing
Even harder through the impenetrable
Tangle of hardened saguaro
And prickly pear and cholla and barrel,
But whichever way they find,
What happens is what happens: They catch fire
And then bring the fire with them when they run.
They don’t know they’re on fire at first,
Running so fast as to make the fire
Shoot like rocket engines and smoke behind them,
But then the rabbits tire
And the fire catches up,
Stuck onto them like the needles of the cactus,
Which at first must be what they think they feel on their skins.
They’ve felt this before, every rabbit.
But this time the feeling keeps on.
And of course, they ignite the brush and dried weeds
All over again, making more fire, all around them.
I’m sorry for the rabbits.
And I’m sorry for us
To know this.

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