She saw them knowing

The woman woke like Sleeping Beauty, kissed
herself and found a dolphin: blue, leaping right over
the curve of her left shoulder, marking her. Years
she swam – fast, out front of the sharks, dancing
the foamtops of waves. Sometimes she jumped
clear out of the sea, laughing through the sunbright
diving away from tourists buying tickets to her life.

Then a she-bear came: spirit-dreaming, the woman
met a bear whose blood and fur were dark, a voice
from a cave, growling to a cub she’d whelped, nursed
fed with honey, berries, dandelions and lilies, roots
and tree grubs, ledgedancing goats, highridge sheep –
their rangy meat streaked with clover. Sleeping one
season every year, sometimes the bear woke up to roar
in the dark. The woman roared too. Then she laughed.

Once when the bear was sleeping, the woman’s need was
for caution, for delicate feet. She dreamed a deer – a doe
who stayed for months when fear was being useful.
She was grateful for this teaching, these ways. Then
the doe was gone and the bear woke up and the woman
laughed out loud. Those who’d met the woman in her
deer time were startled: the woman laughed out loud.

Years dreaming, dark throats rumbling, cub growing, grown.
Woman and bear silvering slowly. Then one night a shining
mare cantered into the darkest dream and stood there, soft lips
sliding over big blunt teeth. The bear turned over, snored.
The woman wondered and the horse waited, skin flickering
tail switching. The woman closed her eyes. She opened
her eyes – and the horse was there: its gold head pointing
like a signpost, one hoof stamping on the cave floor.

The woman laughed at herself. She stretched, loosened
for the leap, dropped kisses to the bear. On the horse’s back
she moved like a myth: horse and woman legend, galloping
flower meadows, crossing sand dunes, tracing the edge
of a fast cold river – the woman sometimes gasping. Air
in her body like food. In a night valley, the mare stopped.
The woman lay down, looked up. The stars made her cry.

In the valley morning, yellow sun rose over mountains, lighting
a small house. The mare cropped rough grass. Sometimes birds
black, white, blue-winged with sharp narrow tails, flew down.
They chattered, pecking and walking. They groomed the mare.
Magpies. The woman watched them: they dipped their black
beaks, drank dew from cracked stone. They made fierce laughing.
They flapped wings of iridescent coal. The birds knew she was
watching – she saw them knowing. She saw them flying.



Judith Arcana

About Judith Arcana

Judith Arcana writes poems, stories, essays and books. One of her stories about abortion & tattoos came out as a zine in 2013 (Keesha and Joanie and JANE); two others are online at Serving House Journal. Her 2012 poetry chapbook is The Parachute Jump Effect, and her Maude poems, a project supported by grants from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council and Portland’s Celebration Foundation, are part of her new manuscript, Nickel Heart. Judith recently had a sandwich named for her at the lovely&amazing Fleur de Lis Bakery/Café in Portland, Oregon. Listen to her read on SoundCloud; visit
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