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"The Man with a Bear" by Coleman Barks

(Published in One-Handed Basket Weaving. Maypop Books, 1991.)

For the man who saved the bear
from the dragon's mouth, the bear
became a sort of pet.

When he would lie down to rest,
the bear would stand guard.

A certain friend passed by,
"Brother how did this bear
get connected to you?"

He told the adventure with the dragon,
and the friend responded,
                 "Don't forget
what your companion is. This friend
is not human! It would be better
to choose one of your own kind."

"You're just jealous of my unusual helper.
Look at his sweet devotion. Ignore
the bearishness!"

But the friend was not convinced,
"Don't go into the forest
with a comrade like this!
Let me go with you."

                 "I'm tired.
Leave me alone."

                 The man began imagining
motives other than kindness for his friend's concern.
"He has made a bet with someone
that he can separate me from my bear." Or,
"He will attack me when my bear is gone."

He had begun to think like a bear!

So the human friends went different ways,
the one with his fear into a forest,
where he fell asleep again.

The bear stood over him
waving the flies away.

But the flies kept coming back,
which irritated the bear.
He dislodged a stone from the mountainside
and raised it over the sleeping man.

When he saw that the flies had returned
and settled comfortably on the man's face,
He slammed the stone down, crushing
to powder the man's face and skull.

Which proves the old saying:

IF YOU'RE FRIENDS
WITH A BEAR,
THE FRIENDSHIP
WILL DESTROY YOU.

WITH THAT ONE,
IT'S BETTER TO BE
ENEMIES.


University of Oklahoma logo

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Myth.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. 2002.  laura-gibbs@ou.edu.
Page last updated: February 9, 2003 9:21 PM

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