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A bear doesn't respond to reward

and law prohibits binding

but there are ways to train a bear.

Brought in under dark to ring three

they pass in flickering silhouette

before a roustabout's lamp-

a linked chain gang on hind legs.

They enter with astonishing speed

towering over their deft masters

a cadre of gypsies who run dogged

as partisans moving by night

behind enemy lines toward some last resort.

What cards were dealt to bring them here-

over moonlit Balkan ranges, through gorges

forest, plain, past ice-wrapped cities

strung along by Sava's flow to the Black Sea.

Once whole families camped with mute beasts,

bears such as these glimpsed in shadow,

the great muzzled heads half-mad held

up and back, balanced like serving trays

over loose sloped torsos of muscled ease

though bent legged below in diapered straddle.

Then house lights flood up

blank-out the chiaroscuro in grease paint glare.


"And now ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,

children of all ages-

The Montenegros and their wonderful dancing bears!"


The gypsies throw off their cloaks

step forward like royalty.

The band plays. The bears waltz.

The crowd murmurs and shifts to a sequined blond

working big cats in center ring.

Outside, mercury light yellows empty city streets,

and far away bears are sleeping in the woods.