Your eyes are fresh with death, tongue and fur still wet with breath that’s just left them.
Your softness is a gut-punch, the swell of your belly, haunches and ears like foothills from a distance.
Blood brightens on the road shoulder, clarified by the cold. I can’t see where it’s coming from.
You look perfect to me.
You were probably born earlier this year, or maybe last,
fat with berries and the dream of sleep.
I know that you are missed, or you will be,
when the rest of them wake up.
I was just talking about the violence of highways, their deceptive breadth,
their dominance thinned by distance, passing themselves off
as natural fractures,
as fault lines,
oil and stone.
But severing paths, migrations, generations,
the concentrated care of drawing out lives
from parallels into tangled lines.
Next to me, in the passenger seat, she was like, no shit Sherlock. But also like, poor settlers – slow learners.
She doesn’t say any of this. She exhales gifts
of painful patience.
I pick up your paw, tracing the curve of a claw with my pointer, pressing the tip into my palm. I’m surprised at its weight, the soft tension of the pads, plush like blistered lips.
Who could leave you like this?
Everyone passing will think that we’ve killed you.
We wish we knew what to do – the proper words, the right ceremony. Or someone nearby who could make good use.
We have to do something.
We dial the ministry for parks, but they’re closed. Then the non-emergency police line in Steinbach. The flat-vowelled voice is confused. I’m glad we don’t get through.
I know what they do with the bodies.
I shout at the blonde family in the red SUV stopped across the highway, gawking, taking selfies, making faces at us, sneering over your stillness.
They do fuck off, but only when they’ve taken everything
A hunter in a pickup truck, chill-chapped skin and camouflage, pulls over to ask if we hit you. That makes sense to him – two women driving down the highway,
only one of them white.
We tell him no.
He says he wishes he had his trailer with him, as if you were
his to take.
He leaves us with an ironic ‘good luck’.
A crow passes and she asks him to bring some help.
She sings a bear song that she knows, her liquid voice
roughed-up by the windchill and crackled with tears.
but not kin.
We stroke you, gold-leaf your fur and nose and feet, dapple them with tobacco.
Two women and a man pull over in a pickup. They look for a while, put down their own medicine, speak some words in language.
We stand, together,
The man lifts your hind legs and pulls you, light, like sliding ice, into the stiffened grass and hunched shrubs.
‘Where are you headed?’ one of the women asks. ‘Grassy’. ‘The reserve?’ ‘Yeah’.
The woman nods slowly, hugs her,
receives her grief,
hugs me too.
“You should have taken one of the paws and kept it. That keeps the strength of the bear with you. Honours its spirit,” we are told when we get there and tell everyone about you, ask if they know your family.
I know I couldn’t do it. I don’t have the guts, the blood, the stomach, the right, the rage, the pain,
the visceral empathy
to do what needs to be done.
I’ll bet she does.
I talk about all the animals I’ve seen on the roads, that I will keep seeing
as long as I keep driving.
‘Keep tobacco in your car. Always have some ready”, Bizhiw says,
‘What if I can’t stop and pull over?”
“Put it out the window. It’ll get to them.
spirits move fast”.
For Ni Nok Cuma Gook and Gishiime Makwa.