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"Red Terror"

by John Esterbrook from Ferndale, Michigan


Poem "Red Terror"


Followed the game trail through the underbrush
Aware of crisscrossed tracks of deer and bear
Always listening for footsteps in the dry leaves
wary of claws and fangs and creatures there.

Slapping branches and sharp tearing thorns
fighting my progress all the way
Now I hear the whispering of a stream
felt the first sunbeams of the waking day.

Like light-swords they penetrate the green
through gaps in broadleafs high overhead
Nature wraps her arms around us
here in the Sturgeon River's watershed.

I stop and listen so carefully again
for sounds lost to leaves beneath my feet
I sniff the air for the scent of bear
nerves taut and ready to retreat.

I'm out of my element and they are not
I'm in violation of their borders
Being merely man I must be aware
of my real place in Nature's order.

Amid the pines, fir, and cedars here
a permeating fragrance spicy and clean
Until the shifting wind came from the east
carrying the stench of death obscene.

Proceeding with much more caution now
I move toward the whispers of the stream
Conscious of the tracks so new and plentiful
a trace of terror in surrounds serene.

Pawprints with claws ripping inches deep
tho' benignly into the coarse blonde sand
Were the same that disembowled the deer
left to rot on a tiny midstream island.

A tuft of cinnamon fur on a fallen limb
A shiver of fear shoots up my spine
It's the rogue red bear, Red Terror,
I stumbled on his kill and defiled his shrine.

I shake the red dust all around me
as each step so cautiously I take
At sounds I don't expect, I shiver
I fear the sound that my own breathing makes.

Hot red pepper for covering my trail
as I tresspass where Red Terror reins
I set the tripwire where I've passed
smelling the stench of the carcass again

Hours passed in anxious waiting
I stare at the flowers at my feet
With binoculars I check the hidden camera
fixed and focused on the rotting meat.

'Tis somewhat comforting to smell the stench
for my scent too is carried away
Away from Red Terror who reigns as king
who'll guard with fury this flesh decayed.

Perhaps he won't even feed here today
I thought as I eyed the crimson flower
Its' petals opened to drink the light
that the sun pours down this midday hour.

I hold back the sunlight with my hand
its' delicate petals begin to close
Opened again, when the light returned.
I moved my hand and sunshine flowed.

They're so much like people, I surmised
as I gave and took the flower's light
I see common traits of flora and man
Attention makes both shine so bright.

So carelessly I fell asleep
my eyes fixed upon that flower
And the steady stream of bees that came
for the sweet nectar they devoured.

There were thousands of those flowers there
and just as many honey bees
The fragrance was sweetly intoxicating
so richly lofting on a wispy breeze.

I awoke panicked over approaching sundown
in the hunting grounds of the red bear
I scurried to gather up my gear
and in the fading light get out of there.

Gone the rotting carcass from the island
no single trace of the fallen deer
Massive paw-prints upon paw-prints
Red Terror! He's been here!

I fled with camera and clanging gear
in a race with darkness, perhaps for life
Clutched in a fist of fear with every sound
in my right fist a knife gripped tight.

Where the trail forked. Which way Lord?
Return as I came, or the trail west?
Instinct urged me toward the latter
Faster onward, I'm a man by fear possessed.

Another fork and that stench again
it permeates the swampy hollow
The cloak of darkness closing fast
and there's no trail left to follow.

Instinct said to turn around
it said to go the way the stench was fading
I heard a grunt from the cedar swamp
Was Red Terror out there angry, waiting?

Thank God the wind was in my face
and pray God it will not turn.
There's nowhere to hide from the demon bear
I seek the high-grounds and the ferns.

Hoots, howls and soulful cries
greet the darkness quickly falling
Ear tuned to grunts or gutteral groans
scared again at every coyote's calling.

Away from the vile scent retreating
then mysteriously the stench returns
Was Red Terror tracking and drawing near?
in panicked flight my lungs now burn.

Lights flashing down the logging trail
an engine droning and shifting gears
I run for the road, brush cracks behind me
adrenalin flowing, Red Terror draws near.

Logs piled high, the cab door opened
for life I leaped into the logging truck
"What the hell is that?" The driver queried
Red Terror stood erect full of blood and muck.

Driver blew the horn and floored the throttle
Red snorted, sulked, ambled toward his kill
That bear strikes terror in my heart
and until the day I die, he will.

I expected nothing from the roll of film
But I processed it two years later
Terror struck again as the image emerged
as the blurred print became red fur.

He stood and stared right where I slept
then charged, but suddenly retreated
Around him swarmed a million bees
and the shutter again and again repeated.

Angry bees turned Red Terror away
spoiled his human dinner 'neath the tree
No other owes such a debt to flowers
that lured the bees defending me.

I'll not return to Hunterlost Swamp
and risk meeting with the mighty Red Terror
'Tis his dominion and I know that well
and he reigns sole and sovereign there.


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