The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem TO HAVE BEEN ON FIRE

The mind goes, eventually,

where it needs to go.  As does the body.


Not so with the heart.

The heart has nothing for need.  It sits in a little hut, and all the


are well-worn, all the wagons breaking.


Tonight’s breakthrough is I try to lull myself

by imagining that I have been badly burned.


In the drawings I can’t draw there is a new window

open on the left side of my neck.  The lulling is for this,

for shutting it.


Today I walked the road from end to end.

If you want to know, yes, I looked


for bears. My whole adult life I’ve looked.

Before sex, there was not a bear. And


so on. While I walked, planes came through

the valley, two together, antique, I think.


My thoughts went to air show.

Crop duster. Forest fire. First flight.


I don’t know where you are.


So now I’ll say I hated and loved the time

the young barista gave you your receipt


with her number on the back. I was

right there, like another customer,


a book bag. Just this morning,

the man up the road told me


a story: one evening he sat alone

in the yard with his book and sensed


in the quiet a presence—what he took

to be his wife sneaking up. He waited.


Finally he turned to see sleeping on the grass

behind his chair a large bear. I could


have wept. Tonight the roar coming on

is one plane, nothing in chase or warning


or relief, nothing but the late sun

and everything’s invitation to face it.