“The Polar Bear” by Jennifer Givhan

Jennifer Givhan


I’m just another asshole sitting behind a desk writing about this
–Facebook status update

What I’m asking is will watching The Discovery
Channel with my young black boy instead
of the news coverage of the riot funerals riot arrests
riot nothing changes riots be enough to keep him
from harm? We are on my bed crying for what we’ve done
to the polar bears, the male we’ve bonded with on-screen
whose search for seals on the melting ice has led him
to an island of walruses and he is desperate, it is late-
summer and he is starving and soon the freeze
will drive all life back into hiding, so he goes for it,
the dangerous hunt, the canine-sharp tusks
and armored hides for shields, the fused weapon
they create en masse, the whole island a system
for the elephant-large walruses who, in fear, huddle
together, who, in fear, fight back. This is not an analogy.
The polar bear is hungry, but the walruses fight back.
A mother pushes her pup into the icy water
and spears the hunter through the legs, the gut,
his blood clotting his fur as he curls into the ice
only feet away from the fray—where the walruses
have gathered again, sensing the threat has passed.
My boy’s holding his stuffed animal, the white body
of the bear he loves, who will die tonight (who
has already died) and my boy asks me if this is real.
What I’m asking is how long will we stay walruses,
he and I, though I know this is not an analogy.

Poets Respond
May 3, 2015

[download audio]


Jennifer Givhan: “My son and I watch science shows because he wants to be a scientist when he grows up. Online, the morning after we watched a show about the ice caps, I watched a mother taking her son away from the Baltimore riots and I wrote this poem.” (website)

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