The Woolly Bear by Martin J. Elster

The Woolly Bear

Along a silvan lane, you spy a critter
creeping with a mission, a woolly bear
fattened on autumn flora. So you crouch,
noting her triple stripes: the middle ginger,
each end as black as space. Her destination
is some unnoticed nook, a sanctuary
to settle in, greet the fangs of frost,
then freeze, wait winter out—lingering, lost
in dreams of summer, milkweed, huckleberry.
Though she’s in danger of obliteration
by wheel or boot, your fingers now unhinge her.
She bends into a ball of steel. No “ouch”
from bristles on your palm as you prepare
to toss her lightly to the forest litter.

She flies in a parabola, and lands
in leaves. Though she has vanished, both your hands
hold myriad tiny hairs, a souvenir
scattered like petals. When this hemisphere
turns warm again, she’ll waken, thaw, and feast
on shrubs and weeds (the bitterer the better)
then, by some wondrous conjuring, released
from larval life. At length she will appear
a moth with coral wings — they’ll bravely bear
her through a night of bats or headlight glare,
be pulverized like paper in a shredder,
or briefly flare in a world that will forget her.

by Martin J. Elster

Editor’s Note: The rhyme scheme in this poem is a delight, as is the story, but it is the last line that really resonates and opens the door to allegory.

Poet’s Note: The rhyme scheme in the first stanza is a chiasmus.

2 thoughts on “The Woolly Bear by Martin J. Elster

  1. Martin, this is simply an amazing poem. Even though I’ve been studying the chiasmus form lately, and its iteration of ring composition, I wouldn’t have noticed it if it hadn’t been pointed out in Christine’s commentary. It may not have been you conscious intent, but the central pair of the chiasmus foreshadows the striking conclusion: the “fangs” of frost could be replaced by the “shredder” of the world’s dangers to her, and being “lost” in the next line matches her being “forgotten.” Superb!

    Like

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