Polar Dreams

Richard Downing

That's The Ticket

We almost had the polar bear talking
with the seal,
making a pact and plans
to work together to stop
the drilling and the release
of greenhouse gasses.
We almost had the polar bear agreeing
to march on selected capitals,
to carry signs and shout
painted slogans, to run
for office, to vote, not to drink
Coke, at least not in commercials,
to cast the seal as his running mate,
to bite the heads off lobbyists and,
after one term, himself,
but then the polar bear shrugged
its massive shoulders and the seal knew
what to expect.

Polar Bear Blues

—for Magic Slim & the Teardrops

It’s not that the polar bears didn’t try
to adapt. One bear gave a shot
at becoming a blues musician,

Chicago blues specifically. Got him
a Gibson guitar
and some Magic

Slim CDs out of a trapper’s house
he scavenged whenever
the owner was busy setting his snares.

Smacked the door open with a large white
paw. Checked the fridge first
before sampling the music

room. Even made a special trip to take
an amplifier. Toted the whole haul
far out onto the tundra,

set up as best he could on an ice floe—
glacial backdrop, a few curious seals
for fans, one penguin

who swore he was not an agent,
that he was just there because
where else was he supposed to be?

What the bear could never figure
was how to scavenge

an opposable thumb,
an appreciative audience.


—for Willie Kent & the Gents

A few seals seemed
to want to be a part
of the polar bear’s blues

band. They actually approached the bear
as he sat between the stolen guitar,
the amp and the CDs,

many of which had cracked open
from having been carried in the bear’s teeth,
a few discs having rolled out of their cases

across the ice, reflecting the fall
light around the glacier
that was to be the bear’s backdrop

for his opening act. Perhaps it was
the light that attracted the seals
and not the promise

of a blues-playing bear. Regardless,
the bear ate his few fans
as soon as they got close

enough. In this way he became
what so many of us have

Polar Dream #4

Mrs. Claus is dancing
across the white snow.
Polar bears have popped
loose pipes from the line
and are drinking the oil  
like cola through a straw.
Seals are barking carols
like on the old novelty LPs
from years ago
except these voices are not
dubbed in by human beings.
Penguins are coming out
of the closet. They have name
tags on their feathered chests.
Hello my name is Ben  
and Hello my name is Jerry
are showing off pictures
of their kids to the faces
below the ice. An SUV has fallen
through. Its occupants are looking up
from below the surface.
The palms of their hands
are flat, fingers spread.
Their teeth are perfect.


Bear Floats

One bear was last seen floating
on a chunk of ice not much
bigger than he  
was. It was obvious  
to those of us on the frozen shore
as the ice floated farther
and farther out to sea
that the bear was a goner.
Suicide, the guide said
the bear had to know
what would happen if he chose
such a small piece of ice.

And we nodded in unison and agreement
Suicide it had to be
and had no more idea why
the bear chose what he chose    
than why we chose to be  
where we could stand
and watch him  
float away
from us.

Richard Downing is the winner of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Barbara Mandigo Kelly Poetry Peace Prize, Writecorner Press’s Editor’s Award, New Delta Review’s Matt Clark Prize, and New Woman’s Grand Prize for Fiction. His journal and anthology publications include Potomac Review, Juked, Dire Elegies, Composite Arts Magazine, and Prime Number. His Four Steps Off the Path is a YellowJacket Press chapbook. Downing co-founded Save Our Naturecoast and holds a PhD in English.