Black Bear Hood
A black bear scanned the forest from a dead tree
and scampered down in an instant
watching me tremble through the shrub berries.
I felt the red pitcher plant tease at my ankle
to drown a fly
as the bear ran splashing through the black water.
I traced the claw scrapings on the sand and trees,
I entered the tree bends wearing a mirror to find
a glimpse of the joining like branches and vines.
The sunset of sticks and leaves a tinder coal to cauterize
the horizon’s wandering pain
until the darkness unfolded a bear hood to silence.
My focus sharpened in litanies to another beast
emerging with young from the forest,
their heart a golden fire in the center of my eyes.
The Singing Jar
In the cove I wallowed to gather a floating eagle feather
and severed blue heron claw
for a singing jar.
The lapsing distance fell closer to the shell-stone shore
in the wake of a barge taking coal,
sun and rain blurred grey as the lake crashing against the hull
and back to rattle beneath my hands.
Bird flight electric in my spine,
shadows move on the ground like the trees are running
where I want and cannot go.
Like a knife at my side the sky wandered the lines
to an opening where water fell over boulders back to the lake
for an afterworld.
I followed the forested gorge
as the waking rhododendrons leaves sprouted green
with a white blossom through the last snow.
Thornbrush on the shallow coast,
high winds changed the shapes of trees
in arches these holy women spinning
with constancy these gathering years.
Mists of white pelicans and white tailed hawk
tesselate like a heaven on the floodplain
as erratic waves break on the shore.
Howls around a coyote skeleton in the mud,
voices of earth in my voice for a thunderer
of the wild divine.
Trudging the slow miles keeping each step,
I carried the cleaned coyote skull on my back
as a devouring amulet against the harms
I have myself created.
Like bruises and bruise
the changing colors of air and sea merge
to burn a looking circle on my palm.
I swim through this open water with the fish
as dusk rustles in the yucca
to be born in hiding with the moon.
John Swain lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Red Paint Hill published his first collection, Ring the Sycamore Sky.