Poetry: Beholden


“Beholden” is a word I learned from my grandmother.
It has a bitter taste on my tongue.
There are some gifts a person does not want, but can’t refuse.
‘Beholden’ is that kind of gift.
Once I had it in my hand and took a good look at it, I realized that I did want it after all.
I thought I saw a great value in it.
I didn’t see the pain then, I only saw the pride.
I saw my grandmother’s straight back and I straightened mine.

“Never, never let yourself be beholden to anyone.” That’s what she said.

I have a twisted nature.
I hide out a lot.
I do not know what I am waiting for when I hide out.
Mostly nothing, I think.

The Bear

There is a bear inside of me, and I have a cave in my heart.

When I first became the bear, there were many things that I liked.
There were things to look at and to smell, things to eat.
I liked all those things and I was happy.
The wind was clean and the sky was all around me.
I was wandering around just enjoying things.
The cave is good because it is safe in there, and quiet.
But the cave is dark, and no other creature wants to come in when the bear is there.
Sometimes when I am the bear, I do not think of anything,
and I do not want to talk to people.
People are just white faces with mouths that move up and down with noises coming out.
If there are too many of the faces, I get confused and irritable,
and a black and red blanket covers my eyes, and I want to tear things with my teeth.

Sometimes when I am the bear, I am lonely.
This is when I stop wanting to be the bear;
because the bear is not very loveable,
and not the sort of creature that cares for company.
When the bear is wounded, it rocks back and forth and makes a grunting sound.
It is not beholden to anyone, and it does not know that someone else might be able to help.
The cave is safe, and the bear growls and keeps everyone out.
The bear is a solitary creature.
Being the bear has taught me to like being alone.
—This is when I am the bear.
Now, when I stick my nose out of the cave,
the dust blows by and stings, and I cannot see any green, or sky.
It stinks, and the quiet happy creatures at the roots of things are gone.
The roots are gone too.
I am afraid that I cannot live out there,
because of the stink and the stinging in my nose and eyes,
but I am tired of being in the cave.
The dust and the stink get into the cave now, too.
I keep looking for the ones who made the stink and the dust,
so that I can rip them to pieces with my teeth, but I have never found them.

I go out of the cave sometimes,
thinking that I have not looked everywhere yet for the green and the roots,
and they must be there still, somewhere.
After a while I stop looking because I am tired, and something hurts inside me.
Then I go back into the cave because there is nowhere else to go.
—This is when my heart is breaking.

Inside my head there is a picture of the bear,
who goes out and comes in again, without ever finding the green.
The bear’s eyes water, her nose is cracked, and the tips of her claws are ragged.
There is dust in her coat, and she sniffs at things in a listless, bewildered, nearsighted way.
In the picture in my head, the cave fills with dust and the bitter stink,
and the bear cannot be there anymore.
Outside the cave it is the same,
and the bear goes out one day to look for the green again,
and never comes back.
If I squint, I can see the bear through the dust and the blowing smoke and the stink.
She turns over rocks and sniffs under heaps of garbage, still looking for the green.
I know while I am looking at the picture that the green is gone forever,
and the bear will never find it.
It is too hard for me to tell the bear this,
and to see the bear go on looking for something that is dead and gone.
I keep hoping that the bear might still be right,
and the green and the sweet smells are only lost, not gone forever.

I am sorry for the bear, but the bear is not sorry.
The bear is only confused, and restless,
and sometimes feels the need to sit and rock back and forth and make a grunting sound.

I don’t want to be the bear now, because of the pain of my heart breaking,
and because when I am the bear I miss being happy in the cave,
and I miss the green and the sky.
When I am the bear I am not able to stop looking for them and missing them,
and I feel confused and lost.
—This is when I’m fighting to stay alive.
But I still want to be the bear,
because the bear is strong and not beholden to anyone.
It knows the way, and never thinks it is lost.

I have two things in my mind about the bear.
It is those two things fighting that make it hard to stay alive.

It’s no different, now, but the bear was right about the green.

My eyes still water, my nose is cracked, the tips of my claws are ragged and bloody,
there is dust in my coat, and I have lost the way back to the cave.
I’ve stopped looking for the cave anyway, because it isn’t safe in there anymore.

I can’t see the green anymore, but I scent it now and then;
sometimes in the swirling dust I smell a little bit of clean wind.

—There is no place to be but here—

I won’t leave, because I can still smell the green and the clean wind now and then.
All the quiet happy creatures who lived at the roots of things are still here too, homeless like me.
This is when I am—

Some of the rocks I turn over have people hiding under them.
I won’t leave them either.

I can’t tell them it’s all right, but I can be with them.
I am still strong,
and I will never forget the green, and the wind from the high places.
—This is when I am—

Sometimes, I still have to find a corner out of the bitter wind and the dust and the stink,
and rock back and forth and make a grunting noise.
But I am not confused any more.

I still hurt too much sometimes,
but I am not sorry.
There is no point in being sorry;
now and then,
I can still smell the clean wind,
and see the sky past the blowing dust.
—This is when I am

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