National Poetry Month Day 21: W. Todd Kaneko





Bear Country

The kid down the street has taught my son
to play dead, eyes squeezed tight, tongue

lolling at a cartoonish angle. Play dead,
you say, and he plops down belly-first

in the grass and waits for all our imagined
dangers to evaporate. It’s cute but useless,

his inexperience at pretending to be a body
because any capable gunman in any school

will recognize the ruse and that’s that.
Maybe there’s a grizzly bear in a classroom

in Michigan, where the children flop
to the floor like rag dolls, leaving the bear

to lumber away in search of a honey pot
or a picnic basket. Call the park ranger,

the zookeeper, that dude who wrangles
the bear at the county fair and ask how animals

are so easily fooled, how a country is duped
into allowing bears to maraud the library,

to raid the cafeteria for a slice of pizza
and a cowboy cookie. Childhood is brief,

too fleeting to ask a two-year-old to wonder
how the dirt nap feels. Let him grow up,

grow a beard and move gentle through
the wilderness each Spring. Let the hunters

tremble at his coming. Let them lay down
their rifles and admire his gorgeous antlers.


Photograph of W. Todd Kaneko by Tyler Steimle.

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of the poetry books This Is How the Bone Sings and The Dead Wrestler Elegies, and co-author of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology. A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of Waxwing magazine and teaches at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. More from this author →