Cycle of Songs

Selected from Song of the Bear

Kneeling in the center of a clearing, wearing a crown of twigs and leaves, singing softly, a woman cradles a small, vicious, black bear in her arms. She knows him at once. His long, curved ivory talons have grown sharp and sullen in captivity. As she touches a blaze of gold on his thick, furrowed brow, she trembles, for she nurtures a demonic changeling. Bones crack, snap, tear free from their moorings, rupturing the silence of the forest after dark. The sound, bestial, primitive, reverberates against the rough bark of a circle of trees that guard the site and witness the deed. She wrings the neck of the shadow shape with her bare hands, as her grandmother once wrung the necks of cocks at dawn.

The ground beneath her shudders. Within the earth echoes the roar of a majestic animal. From the loam arises a great she-bear. The towering beast enfolds the woman in a pelt from her own broad, shaggy back. Bowing her head, she accepts the gift. At that moment, the cloud-covered night sky parts. The tips of the pelt shimmer in the reflected light of seven stars, silver ornaments of the guardian of the night sky and the radiance of Ursa Major anoints the clearing with starlight. The woman of the night dances. The long, dark hairs of her mantle sway, as she circles the clearing chanting. Feet sink into wet earth, leaving the print of the bear with each footfall.