Dancing Bear

Children bring me coins
to watch him balançoire, tombé —
they imagine he has a
forest inside, they close
their eyes to see him
foraging on a high cliff
above a burnished lake —
belly to the wet earth
but inside is just a savage
who loves only his
claws, his wild mouth,
tears at honeyed flesh
with his barbed tongue
so I tamed him with
a rod, a crop, my fist —
starved him until he would
dance this way, that way.
At six o’clock you should
see me count my money —
hatfuls of brass and gold.
I uncouple his snout, rub
a drop of lotion in, pour
myself a drink as my
father unzips his bear skin —
places his naked head
on my lap — throat exposed.
He apologises to me
for all the places on my body
his hands have scarred
but I just close his eyes,
sing him to sleep,
nuzzle his ears — a blade
in my other hand.

From Soho. Reproduced with kind permission of Faber & Faber

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