“Animal Densities” by Steven Chung

Steven Chung


Polar bears have either gone extinct
or learned to camouflage better,
because when your home is meltwater,
you have to hide in ice. Which is to say,
the density of the animal doesn’t matter
when the world itself is drowning.

In the Arctic the tundra sun stays in the sky
all day like a watchful parent; my mother would call this
ski weather. But this type of permanence
is unhealthy. We all need reminders of our mortality
in small doses. A six-hour death,
the sun later rising in a funeral procession. No—

night is proof we can still exist
when the heavens doubt us.
They never trust us: I am not a hunter,
but at seventeen I have killed three bears
into their constituent parts: hope and hunger,
which the sea salt preserves past expiration.

Soon more of this will happen.
After all, salt is just a transparent stone
that needs reshaping. Sometimes you can pretend
it is quicksand and bury yourself for a few seconds,
to be of the earth. In these cases,
the density of the animal never matters.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017

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Steven Chung: “Poetry will last as long as the world does. It’s up to us to keep both alive.”

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