Originally published in Points West in Spring 2009
Death Gulch, Wahb Springs
A Poetic Addendum to On the Trail of a Bear Named Wahb
By Dr. Burt Bradley
Associate Professor of English, Northwest College, Powell, Wyoming
Death here burns, without fire or flame.
But, hell, the air, like Dante’s Inferno,
hangs heavy with brimstone, clogged
with ancient sulfur. It clings
to the cindered rocks and calcified
trunks, choking the very ground itself
into these last gasps of dying dirt.
Here the bears died, and Wahb—
bullet ridden and bullet proofed,
old hoary, silver white grizzly,
caricature of the wild who followed
the creek, trolling for its meager fish,
pawing its clear, soft water.
A smell, old familiar in some ways,
in others not—of death, decay, a carcass
decomposing, pure nourishment
for carrion, for bear. But something else,
something not quite right: a complete
absence of predators.
Wahb sensed it, too: none
of those two-leggeds with their fire
and noise, their puny traps—not one
could hold or catch the last great bear.
He followed the scent, though tainted,
that promised a feeding—a rancid bouquet
laced with yellow air, that burned the throat,
and cauterized the lungs.
Here, flows the spring of pure death:
pristine, uncorrupted, complete:
no flies, no maggots, no eternal return.
Here the earth takes and doesn’t give back,
leaving the bears piled one on top
of the other—as signposts, as warnings:
no trespassing. And old Wahb too,
mortal at last in body, blood, and bone,
but whose name still roars louder
than the silence of death.