Neil Parsons, Black Grizzly Robe

2000, mixed media; Hockaday Museum of Art permanent collections, gift of the artist in memory of George Kicking Woman.

Black Grizzly Bear Robe

In face-paint, the bear faces you, each eye
tiny, silver, and focused like a star.
Its massive shoulders crowd behind it,
as if waiting for the signal to charge,
but more than mere strength is at play here.
It’s a dangerous animal, surely, the first
color you see is blue streaming from its jowls,
leaving trails that dilute, grow dimmer
as they fall, bleeding down its spoiled regalia.
Its forehead is marked with its own totem,
a six-legged theriomorph with horns, splayed
like an inkblot, or a dissected frog,
in consort with eight purple suns around it.
What does it see when it sees you?
A frightened person who hangs her head.
What does it hear? Nervous jingling of bells
before the dance. Smell of white threads
of mycelium. What if you, too, could wear
your spirit, bejeweled with turquoise
and crumpled foil, what if it were the first thing
others see, which has its own shape,
a tree’s crown fanning outward. Your hair dyed
a sacred green. Antlers, or perhaps antennae.

Melissa Kwasny