Yellowstone National Park

I watch schools of salmon

lend themselves with pleasure

to the mouths of grizzly bears

when everything that’s supposed to sit

circled quietly around me starts shouting,

the fat brick of hash

I told my friend not to let me keep,

not even if I kowtow at the knees for it,

the pair of garish rotisserie chickens

peppered with rosemary gossiping

in the fridge, the little stipples of spinach

I bestow gorgeous honorifics upon

before they’re sluiced from my teeth

& swept down the drain.

It’s when the video teems, buffers,

& leaps forward in time, losing time

as it moves, that I misplace the bear

I had come to love for the way

she carries what remains of the fish

after they’ve been fleeced

of meat notched in her auburn fur

like gaudy opals. Falling for 

how she lumbered & caterwauled, lifting

her snout to goad whatever wind the river

carried with it, I felt myself, much like

the thin-beaked heron entering the water

without breaking the water, shocked 

at how easily I can sneak through this life. 

The dolly cants the camera & the camera

cants my eye past the blotch of vetch

blurred on the shoreline, yards beyond 

the center of the lens, just another perennial

I’d find listing & losing its color

in my mother’s garden. Foraging for

my bear by the strings of bone

that bangle the thick muscle of her wrists,

I wonder what the lens would find

if it spun around & racked its focus:

the way I bump my snout up against a big

green button when it’s feeding time,

how I lick my coat until it sparkles

& I can finally purr myself to sleep.

When I was kept in a cage

because I couldn’t gather language

to cradle the reasons I wanted to leap

into the mouth of a beast

that would catch & destroy me, 

my mother sent missives

repeating be good & don’t die,

among other dreadful spondees.

When the lock was unlatched,

& a clear, blue sky pinned my pupils,

I should’ve been better, I will

get better, I still say, a sentence

I scan for its stresses, finding nothing

but my plain as bone sadness.

It would be wise to ape the species of duck

I don’t know the name of, that floats

past the bears it confuses for hills,

hopscotches between slipstreams of blood,

ducks its bill below the surface, 

& slides down the long arc of a waterfall.

I push my face flush against the screen

to glimpse the better place it’s tumbled to

when a window pops up & tells me I can have 

twenty more minutes, but only if I pay for it. 

Matthew Tuckner is a writer from New York. He is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at NYU where he is Poetry Editor of Washington Square Review and teaches in the Undergraduate Writing Program. He is the recipient of a University Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the winner of the 2022 Yellowwood Poetry Prize, a finalist for the inaugural Prufer Poetry Prize, and a Best New Poets and Best of the Net nominee. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, Pleiades, Nashville Review, The Missouri Review, Bennington Review, Bat City Review, and Four Way Review, among others.

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