Piece of Cake

Days beneath trees so high
my skin is hungry
for the sun

And knowing it wasn't going to last
forever -- this being afternoon
already, and "the world"
not to mention

we go searching, Rex & I
down the red dirt
for a spot of sunny ground

& just as we hunker
down, the attack begins

-- not a whole cloud, or swarm
of hornets -- just 3 or 4 --
but they're persistent!

I'm fending them off
using Mary Oliver
as a weapon (her new
& selected poems
might have offended
the hornets, hornets
being one of the few
unmentioned in her work)

& Rex -- even while
his long torso lunges
at the hornets
& his great jaws
snap -- places affectionately
a paw on my knee

"don't worry, boss,
a piece of cake" -- I read this in his gesture
as if he too were recalling
another trial we'd weathered

He was just 10 months
old & mostly legs, his first
camping trip, Eastern Sierras

we'd gotten on
the trail too late
& by nightfall
were forced to make camp
in The Green Lakes Loop
-- notorious for bears
of the bothersome variety

I unhook his little doggie pack
when he begins
to fiercely bark -- and there,
standing up on hind legs

in the dominance posture,
is the largest black bear
I've ever seen

-- he must go
nearly 500 pounds
& he's not going anywhere
when we bark and shout

(I believe I was the one
doing the shouting -- but
there was a lot going on
at the time, and some of it
I can't be sure of)

Then the bear disappears
for a moment behind
some trees that line Green Creek
and comes up behind us
snatching away
the dog's kibble filled pack

we go looking for it
only in the growing
darkness, the bear's doubled back
and carted away
my huge red backpack
-- the old bait and switch,
& by now it's quite dark

& there's no rope
to lash food up a tree
(cause the rope's in
the red backpack) & there's only
my friend Carl
& his flimsy flashlight
both of which are fading fast

By the feeble light
we luck out: find the pack,
get our food up a tree
& prepare for the night
mare already begun

10 p.m. -- bear's back in our camp

we scream & yell & bark
which temporarily
has the desired effect

(now usually, a black bear
will be skittish
encountering humans in the woods
& just banging a little
tin cup is generally enough
to make them flee -- that is,
unless they're pros

at raiding camps for food
having lost their native
fear of man
-- which is exactly
as his great girth & behavior
attests -- what we have here

By now we've secured clubs
are in cave
man mind, ears on
alert, the big hunting knife
out, a pile
of throwing rocks
just outside the tent
where Rex is posted
though he whimpers to come inside

Sorry friend, my sentinel,
it's a dog's job, grow into it
-- the heartlessness of which
I might have noted, had I
not been so terrified myself,

though also, the nature of things
seemed to require some
ears out there, and his
were the best we had

1 a.m. barked awake, bear's back
only closer

-- I shine the good flash
light on him
& he's just in front
of the tent, peering in

From years of playing shortstop
a little instinct comes
-- back still to home
plate, the cut-off man grabs
a rock & launches the relay throw

-- which hits the bear in the chest
my one good moment
in all of this, & no roar
or even a whimper, the bear
just saunters off into trees

And it worries, how he
keeps coming back, and closer
so I remind my friend Carl
"be sure not to keep any
food in the tent" -- he wouldn't

be that stupid, he reassures
as if anything could reassure now
because during the last flashlight's
gleam, when I threw the rock,
I noticed a yellow tag
hanging from the bear's ear

which meant he's already been
busted from Yosemite
for camp attacks
and placed out here
-- so we're dealing with
a marauding 500 pound
outlaw bear beyond redemption
who if caught
again, will be destroyed

By now the nerves
are coming unglued, the body
is not made, and usually doesn't have to
metabolize terror
for more than a few
moments adreneline rush
-- and we've been under siege
since nightfall

I think
what we need
is firecrackers
I think
what I want
is a twelve guage

a few granades,
a rocket launcher
-- I've wandered into Rambo
when all I came for
was some peace & quiet

but there are no other
armaments to be found
so I settle for a few rounds
of the Sho Saimyo Kojijo
dharani to prevent disasters

After a while, somehow
(I think a little brandy)
or maybe it was the chanting
that helped us
get to sleep, when
suddenly pandemonium!

-- bear's head inside tent window!

the attack came from the rear
this time,
using creek for sound
camouflage -- not even Rex heard him

and what happened next
I can't remember
or what it was
that drove him away
maybe just the collective
force -- terror and rage --
of three beings coalescing

It's now 3 o'clock in the morning

"Carl," I say to my friend
"black bears almost never
enter tents with men & dogs
unless there's also food inside
-- are you sure all your food
is up in the tree?"

"Yeah," he says,
"all I've got is my toiletries bag"

-- which under the scrutiny
of my ascending lividness
reveals avocado honey shampoo,
a cake of strawberry herbal soap,
some kind of lemon wheatgerm conditioner,
and whatever other
confections, I can't really say

because at that moment,
I picked up his bag
of bear nostril enticers
and threw it as far
into the black night
as strength would allow...

Finally -- a little after 5 a.m.
(any further attempts at sleep
were beyond dog and man)

there's a little patch of sun
streaming down
through the high trees
& I know now
we have survived
the night
& soon will be safe
above the tree-line

And from that day to this
never had I been so
glad for a little sun

& as Rex seemed to be
saying, placing that paw
upon my knee -- after that
everything else, a piece of cake