Poetry by Jackie McManus
I heard him tell of the cougar waiting on a limb along the trail,
how he turned to look,
how he felt watched.
the only thing he had was his body
against a sow grizzly.
Disguised by bungeed antlers on his pack,
tines that shot up and out at irregular height,
he lunged with his head and chest toward the bear.
the only thing she had was her body
against a camouflage of basement sounds that were the river
heard through the screen, sounds like soft fists that hit
again and again, his grip the water, her wrist the smooth stone,
sinking. Who hears such a sound?
Her strangled breath,
the time-worn day,
the violent rustle of his hands, almost velvet,
heard as one hears the crush of air from starlings,
a sound that could fracture a riverbed or a sky.
A thrumming from his throat like a drum roll-
turbulent wet breath across the kitchen counter.
What are the chances on that day
he would know how it is to walk from one place to another,
turn, and feel watched?
What are the chances he would learn
how it feels for flesh to stand sentry,
for event to not have to mean
eventuality? What are the chances he would see
there is only one move to make
to save your life?
Jackie McManus is the author of the poetry chapbook The Earthmover’s Daughter. She has been published in The Gorge Literary Journal, Barstow & Grand, Twig, and Alternative Harmonies. She has been an educator in the public school system and in higher education since 1996. An avid hiker, she lives along the Columbia River Gorge with her cat, Barry.