The Ten-Legged Polar Bear

August 12, 2010

Qupquigiaq drawing by Scott Edward Anderson

When I lived in Alaska, I heard a story from an Inupiaq man about the Qupqugiaq, a legendary ten-legged polar bear who renounces violence and tries to create a love-based community.

He also told about a time when some hunters came across a Qupqugiaq that had fallen into an ice hole and was struggling to get out.

Rather than kill it, they decided to help the bear out of the hole. This seemingly impossible task took a lot of team work. The more they struggled, however, the harder became the task. Only when they stopped and stood still for a moment did they realize their frantic actions were useless. Once they calmed down and worked in concentrated harmony the task became easier and the bear could be freed.

How often do we let the tasks at hand get the best of us, when what we really need is to calm and slow down?

Here is my poem about the Qupqugiaq, which originally appeared in Terrain:

“The Ten-legged Polar Bear”

(Qupqugiaq: a legendary ten-footed polar bear described
by the Inupiaq of Alaska’s Arctic North Slope.)

 

Ten legs are better than two
only if they work together—

when all five legs on one side
and all five legs on the other side

move in concert like a sled runner,
the Qupqugiaq moves smoothly,

but if the legs get tangled up
and one leg trips up another,

then another trips another,
the whole bear comes crashing

down; it takes a lot to get
a ten-legged polar bear upright

and get it moving again—
Think of our enterprise in humanity;

when we work well together,
what union of harmony and grace—

–Scott Edward Anderson, Terrain 13

 

I thought of this poem after reading a blog post by Jerry Colonna that featured David Wagoner’s poem “Lost.”

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3 Responses to “The Ten-Legged Polar Bear”


  1. […] shared my poem the “Ten-legged Polar Bear” with readers in the past, but there’s another poem I wrote about the species, which is a kind […]


  2. Good info. Lucky me I found your blog by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have saved it for later!


  3. […] I derived from Smelcer’s re-telling as well as from this excerpt of a poetry blog: https://seapoetry.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/the-ten-legged-polar-bear/ by Scott Edward Anderson, where he […]


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