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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Elizabeth Bradfield

What if I start with the bear?

Not a bear, I know, yet…. bear arose before the skull, knowing better. Knowing bear. Knowing bone & seal & it has sat on my desk for months now, most recent taking.

Most recent retrieval, too, after my love gave it away to a friend who wanted to paint it, make it sculpture. I, reclaiming a self I’d squelched, asked for it back.  So that I could let it go rather than letting it go that way.  It was important.

So: I start with the bear (skull of an old gray seal, teeth worn, bones pocked) I picked up on a walk with a new friend. After I told myself I’d collect nothing more. I picked it up and carried it the few miles home. I don’t know why.

Weeks, months on a shelf where we put things in transition from car to house, house to car. I know it looked forgotten. I thought about it restless, relentless. Skull, skull, skull, start, skull, start, start…. it thrummed (not growled, not murmured).

The looking at what’s been taken, the looking at the taking. The giving back. The giving back to earth sea world what I’ve taken, taken in, shelved and held beyond my time.

Look now: Look. Re-member. Make of its parts a whole as only, now, imagination can. As only mouse, lichen, dune grass, bacteria. As only memory. As only the giving back which I have not yet done even in the time I’ve attended.


It was summer and winter at once

in the harbor, season teetering, skipping,


it seems, spring altogether.  Sixty gray seals

rested in shallows where, all season, they’ll rest


and grumble as the spot lures skiffs of folks

who also want a bit of distance from town, who find it


here, at the dropoff’s swift gradation toward dark.

Early light. Recent fog.  Beneath us, horseshoe crabs


in singles and pairs shovel into sand, laying eggs.

Scoters, bright billed & late this cold May to depart.


A razorbill, winter harbor bird, opposite-breasted

to black bellied plovers staging on shore.  Then


the morning’s strange surprise—a storm

petrel at rest on the water.  We fell into our usual


chatter, debated the odds.  You saying

not so strange.  Me sure it’s the first time ever.


We put the light behind us, pulled out the camera.

Probably sick, we said when it didn’t take flight.  But what if


this gift has no sorrow wrapping it? What then do we know

of the world? I’ve been faithful to you for twenty-five


years and now my body’s becoming a new weather.

It was winter and summer at once.  We were old


and strange to each other at once.  I’m not sure

how to see anything clearly at all.


Writer/naturalist Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of Toward Antarctica, Once Removed, Approaching Ice, Interpretive Work, and Theorem, a collaboration with artist Antonia Contro. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, West Branch, Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, Orion and elsewhere. For the past twenty-some years, she has balanced her work as a writer with work as a naturalist and guide, both locally and abroad. Winner of the Audre Lorde Prize from the Publishing Triangle, finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, her awards also include a Stegner Fellowship and a Bread Loaf Scholarship. Founder and editor-in-chief of Broadsided Press and a contributing editor at the Alaska Quarterly Review, she lives with her partner in Truro, on Cape Cod, and teaches creative writing at Brandeis University.

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