On a Boat That Dreams of Bears


I am gripping the edge of the boat with my left hand
and I’ve got my right arm wrapped around my toddler, who is leaning
into my body and blinking his eyes against the wind
and spray of the water—his auburn hair is curling up
behind his yellow life jacket and I want to braid it
and kiss him; I’m looking for bears in the trees along
the shore, among the scrub of pine and pink
rock, which is what I always do when we are in the boat

My eldest daughter is nearly twelve: her legs are long
and her hair is blowing back behind her and down her back
straight to her waist, shining in tangles even without the sun
to illuminate her further today it’s the water
reflecting it all and how I feel about her relentless
beauty—the way she sits in the darkest corner
of the cottage, drawing or writing, thumbing through old issues
of the New Yorker, inventing the names of characters
like Emeren Winter for her novel, her own story—
book one of seven in a series she says will take
many years to write

I want to see a cub in the shadows of the trees
with his mother and think about how a bear can
also be a mother, can also be old or hungry,
and desperate. If I told my eight-year-old
how much I loved the young bear we saw in town, I mean
really loved him, running from the dog, stuck
up in the tree, she would understand
me perfectly, and that’s a gift too

The water is the colour of sharks, gunmetal,
darker than the clouds but warm. I know it’s warm
because it keeps pouring up over my hand
and half the blue dress I am wearing is soaked and clinging
to me; I notice my left arm for the first time in years, my arm
is muscular, brown and wet, all the tiny hairs sparkling
like the arm of a child on a boat that dreams of bears

I first wondered about swimming alongside a bear
when we saw one in the channel, making her way
from one island to another like me in so many ways
because I am just another creature with cubs, we have
that knowledge in common

Finally the sun is breaking through the clouds—my daughters
are shrieking on the bow—their father is driving into greater waves
and the boat is rising and falling hard enough to make
my spine crack and I wonder if the boat will split
and dump us all out—if the boat might break
like a plate or if I were to let go here a little bit
what would it feel like to go sailing overboard
and find myself submerged with the bear in my mind

my family surging on without me

Shannon Bramer is a poet and playwright living in Toronto. Her forthcoming book, Precious Energy, will appear with BookThug in the autumn of 2017.


In Stories & Essays

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