Erin O’Neill Armendarez, Black Bear

Craig Goodworth, Slide #1, seated figure (modeling clay), 2008





Mesa Verde, July 2020


Its silence was like
No other silence,
Was of a dream

As under the stars
It approached, sleek, black,
Against the darkness
Of ground and trees,

Not a shadow but a shape
Floating forward,
Changing the landscape.

Ten feet from me,
It turned to gaze
Full on, face calm,

From my chair, I leapt up
Electrified as our eyes met,

The scene like a frame
From a slow-motion film clip.

I ran inside, slammed the door,
Unable to look out further,

Trembling in sacred recognition.

Now, it is all I see.
I close my eyes,
And it is there,

A dark form moving
Within me,
A thing of the night.

Erin O’Neill Armendarez


Review by Massimo Fantuzzi

Confession: I had to research the location named in the poem to make sure it had nothing to do with the Mesa Verde in the AMC’s Better Call Saul series. As suspected, it hadn’t. However, something in the atmosphere and in the narration of this encounter does ring a bell:

(Acts 9:3,4,8) 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.

Here also a person stands, trembling in sacred recognition. Here also a person experiences a shock/revelation that will have the effects (now it is all I see) of a permanent change. Here also a person is called upon by a vision that is floating forward, changing the landscape.

However, the recount we are invited to re-experience here sits diametrically opposite the allegory of Saul on his dusty road to Damascus.

Not a shadow but a shape – nothing godly or biblical – here we are dealing with something of an earthly/physical emanation of the surrounding/pre-existing environment. Could it be nature itself, making its mighty move on us? The same nature we persecute? Still, there is no austere voice questioning our actions and intentions here, only a mute and calm determination simply staring at us. There’s no flashing light blinding our eyes; on the contrary, plunged in darkness we are finally able to see as we gain the ability to discern a black figure moving inside it.

Is this a reunion with a long-forgotten brother and a reminder of our origins? We recognize ourselves to be as nocturnal as the black bear: we carry ourselves in the dark and inside it we can see just fine.

The metamorphosis is complete: we are a thing of the night.


Review by Jared Pearce

Sometimes it seems poetry wants to make a big production.  For me, “Black Bear” denies such a strategy and, instead, strips the experience to the image, inviting the image to haunt both the speaker and the reader: the dark shape, the face-to-face encounter with a large, utterly unstoppable force, the horror and the holiness, the transfer from the experience to the speaker’s existence, all sharpened to tight lines and concrete images.


Review by Mary Giudice

The short lines and airy near rhymes of the first stanzas drew me in– they are both controlled and dreamlike. Then the shorter stanzas increase the pace as the action picks up…it gives the feeling of waking up after that dream.

Encountering the hazardous power of nature is always momentous. We know, deep down, that in the wildest settings we are tender pieces of meat. So I especially like the word recognition in this poem. Re-understanding…remembering. The fairy tale motif of entering the woods attracts me to this poem too. What will we find if we go in there? In this case after the speaker encounters the beautiful monster she finds a lingering darkness, and by the end “a thing of the night” could apply to her as well as to the bear.


Review by Alan Gold

This poem brought to mind Rousseau’s painting of The Sleeping Gypsy, now hanging in MOMA. In the painting, the woman is asleep, and the numinous lion approaches in her dreams. The unconscious mind is the link to her experience of the primitive, but the encounter is innocent, and fundamentally different than in “Black Bear.”

In ”Black Bear,” the wild thing also approaches her in the night, “as in a dream” but she does not hold still for the encounter, she does not sleep. Their eyes meet, there is conscious recognition, with fear and trembling. Now the ego has become conscious of something going on within the depths, and is not so much ennobled as haunted. The fear of the dark, the fear of the shadow, the fear of God. As if we have become even more estranged from our shadow in these last hundred years, so that we no longer search for it as if it were some kind of Edenic ideal. No. Now it is hunting us.  

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