February 27, 2013
Today is International Polar Bear Day, celebrating the world’s largest carnivore.
I’ve 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 of totem for me.
I wrote this poem for my oldest son, Jasper, several years ago, as he was distressing about the plight of the polar bear.
He was born in Alaska and has always had a special affinity with these bears. He had heard reports of a polar bear seen swimming in circles some 60 miles from the nearest shoreline.
International Polar Bear Day was started by Polar Bears International to raise awareness about the plight of these remarkable bears. You haven’t lived until you’ve felt the power and presence of this bear, which is a potent reminder that we are not at the top of the food chain. (If you want a sense of what a polar bear encounter is like, watch this video of a BBC reporter.)
Polar bears are found in only five countries in the circumpolar north, including the US, Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway. According to researchers there are only 19 wild populations of polar bears remaining — probably less that 25,000 individual bears.
The rapid loss of sea-ice in the Arctic is the major threat to polar bears, but they are also subject to pollution, industrial development, and even poaching.
Here is my poem, “Disappearance”
In the distance we see what appears to be floating sea-ice,
calved from ragged ice-edge, only it’s rounded, tensile, mammalian—
Hollow points of light emanating from softly echoing,
transparent follicles; then a broad back surfaces, inanimate—
“Oh my god, it’s a bear!” someone shouts, pointing
to a floating carcass now seen clearly: not sea-ice,
but sea-bear—Urus maritimus—dead-man’s floating
miles and miles from the nearest shore,
face staring deep beneath the surface, massive front paws
spent from stretching, from reaching for ice-edge,
exhausted from swimming panicky circles,
finding only heavy arctic seawater, viscous oil, adrenaline ooze.
Think of a fight-weary heavyweight, no longer at the top of his game,
up against a nimble, invisible opponent, now down for the count.
–Scott Edward Anderson