The Greenville Poets

By Cathryn Essinger

The Philosophy Professor Discusses
the Nature of the Self-Conscious Mind
(or The Invisible Bear)

"Please do not think about bears," he says,
and try as I might, here he comes, big and white,
loose jointed, lumbering over the ice flow of the page.

"And please do not consider your Social Security number
and how you are dressed at the moment," and those things,
too, come to rest beside the bear who is now sprawled

casually in the middle of the floor like a family pet,
becoming more and more familiar in all of the places
that he should not be; so I put on my coat

to cover the clothes that I am not wearing
and add my phone number to the list of trivia
that I am supposed to suppress, and try not to remember

the biologist who once explained that an invisible
object, like a polar bear, can appear white, and suddenly
I am snow-blind in Ohio. Now the bear tilts his head,

confidently, as if he knows the answer to some question,
and now he has forgotten the answer and is content
to snuzzle between the pads of one fat paw.

Already I can smell the pungency of wet fur,
can feel his cold nose in my ear, and I know for a fact
that Kant, Kierkegaard, and Sartre all owned bears,

big, fat, slumbering creatures whose paws twitched
in their sleep as they contemplated essence versus
existence among polar seals, and in my mind

I have already accepted him as a plush reality,
have already bought him a bed, checked his teeth,
paid the vet. All that is left is to name him.

From Poetry
A Desk in the Elephant House