Featured Poem • April 2016

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The Bear’s Wife

 

Theodora Goss

 
 

I went to the bear’s house reluctantly: my father would have a pension for his old age, my mother a pantry filled with food for winter. My brothers would go to school, my little sister—all she wanted, she said, was a dolly of her very own. I went dutifully. Like a good daughter. In the bear’s house there were carpets with dim, rich colors from Isfahan, and mahogany furniture, and brocade curtains. More bedrooms than I could count, a ballroom in which I was the only dancer, a library filled with books. And electric lights! But I chose a candle to see him by—the bear, my husband. The wax dripped. He woke, reproaching me, and it was gone— house, carpets, furniture, curtains, books, even the emptiness of empty rooms. I was alone in the forest. If I returned to my father’s house, they would greet me with cakes and wine. My mother would draw me aside. This is what comes of marrying a bear, she would say, but now it’s over. You can live a normal life, marry again, have children that are not bears, become a respectable woman. There was the path back to my father’s house. Instead I turned toward the pathless forest, knowing already what the choice entailed: walking up glass mountains in iron shoes, riding winds to the corners of the earth, answering ogres’ riddles. And at the end the bear, my husband, whom I barely knew. And yet I walked into the dangerous trees, knowing it was my life, knowing I chose it over safety, maybe over sanity. Because it was mine, because it was life.

 

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GossTheodora Goss’s publications include the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; and the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014). Her work has been translated into ten languages, including French, Japanese, and Turkish. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Locus, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, and on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her short story “Singing of Mount Abora” (2007) won the World Fantasy Award. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program.

She tells that her poem, “The Bear’s Wife,” is “based on an old Norwegian fairy tale called ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ about a woman who loses her bear husband and must travel to the ends of the earth to find him again. I wondered what would prompt a woman to do that, when she had married him to save her family from poverty, and could have returned to that family rather than undertaken such a perilous journey. What prompts us to make the perilous journeys, to claim our own lives? That was the question I was trying to answer . . .”

 

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