365 Poems/92 Restraining the king of the North (Rough First Draft)

Restraining the King of the North

I put you on the drying frame to ease the ice

from off your fur, then move you down,

and roast some seal blubber.


I feed you then move you into my bed.

You do nothing but sleep for days,

but deserve it, after watching your mother

fall and not get back up again.


The hunters told me you even started

to suckle, as snow fell softly on her

open eyes and limp tongue.


Days pass, as if I am in a trance.

I watch your little back rise and fall

to the beat of your small heart.

When I stand, I am weak footed

and past hunger. I feel terrible

for taking the rib of your mother

and talk to you in human speech.


You sniff when you want food,

and children come in the morning.

I sheathe your claws, but you start

to break the children’s toys,

and then their skin. You start

to make them cry.


Adults take their place,

but you get stronger by the day.

The men of the village want

to take you hunting, but there

are things you need to know.


You must always keep down wind

for if you do not the game

will scent you and flee in fear


I watch you amble away with men,

dogs and sleds, and I retreat back

into my empty house.


You are celebrated, and we eat well.


Men from further afield hear about you.

The rumour spreading around the village

is that they say;


I will kill it if it ever crosses my path


Men of the village talk to you, as I do.


Whenever you come face to face with men

treat them as if they were one of your own

never harm them unless they attack first


One night, you return anxious, and do not

retreat to your corner of the house.


Outside, the snow is matted with blood,

and he is splayed like a slaughtered seal.


I do not return to the house until morning,

and we can see it is a man from the North.


I weep and you put your muzzle to the floor.


As I wail, I dip my hands in oil, smear

them with soot and stroke your back.


There is one heartbeat in the house again,

one voice to argue and reason with.

The milk in the bowl turns sour,

while you move out to sea,

a calling in your heart.


You will embody aggression, passion

and solitude and bow your head to the wind.


It is now I want windows on every wall.


I have heard guests say that far to the North,

there will, from time to time, come a bear,

as big as an iceberg, with a black spot on its back


Inspired by the Siberian folktale ‘The woman who had a bear as a foster son.’