YEARLING BEAREach day he trailed a little farther, not like that first spring
when mother's fur was so close he saw each strand sway in the chilly breeze.
Mother would let him crawl between her legs. Her teats were swollen red,
and milk flowed down his throat at his mere nudging.
When the breezes became warmer the other approached, bigger than mother.
Curious, he approached the other.
He sniffed, closer, closer, but no milk. A paw, a sudden swipe.
Cut, pain, a cry, mother charged, ran between,
she reared. The other reared. To him they were growling trees.
The other slunk back between the bushes.
She led him by a stream, licked his cut, let cold water soak his fur.
Autumn, cooler, cold, snow, sleepy.
But the other returned.
This time mother turned from him and let this other mount her.
He watched from the bushes, afraid.
He could not have known father, not yet.
After, he followed her into the den.
sunlight again, but there was another.
He could not remember cub; he did not know cub.
But cub now walked between mother and him.
He tried to move in between. Mother reared and growled at him.
At him, at him. He whimpered and then he growled.
Each day he trailed a little farther.
Last sunrise he tried one last time for milk. Mother growled.
Today he paws a mouse, bites, blood trickles down his throat.
He forgets milk. Mother and cub are far ahead.
Mother will stop and wait for him, always does.
Doesn't. The bushes close around them. He sees only green.
He's alone. The sun moves; shadows circle trees.
A whiff, a half-forgotten smell growing stronger, stronger.
Father, he remembers father. Forgets mother.
Father nears. He doesn't run. He knows father. He becomes father.
Fathers' nails are long; their teeth, sharp.
- Richard Fein