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Published: Thu Jul 1 2010
Art: Paul TheriaultEver New (detail), 2022, acrylic and found paper on scavenged wood
The Moon Speaks of Polar Bears

Some things are better defined
by what they are not,
as when snow heaping the world

replaces the world, becoming
no longer a rooftop, no longer a narrow
gravel shoreline or road,

even in times, in places,
no longer the black breathing
of the sea.

In this way the polar bear
stealing her difficult, beautiful life
from the ridges

and drifts, the colorless
plateau around her,
teaches her young to hunt

by sliding her belly
flat along the frozen light,
blunting her cloudlike

respiration, covering
with one comic paw
the dark flesh of her nose,

so well suited to her artifice
that the oily
seals collecting the ice

are pulled by an intimate
landscape, soundless
and ravenous and white.

Hailey Leithauser is the author of two poetry collections: Saint Worm (Able Muse Press, 2019) and Swoop (Graywolf Press, 2013), which won the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson First Book Award and the Towson Prize for Literature. She has recent or forthcoming work in The Birmingham Poetry Review, 32 Poems, Cincinnati Review, The Hopkins Review, Plume, Poet Lore, AGNI, Alaska Quarterly Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, and The Yale Review. She lives outside of Washington, DC, and teaches occasionally at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and the West Chester Poetry Conference. (updated 4/2022)

Leithauser’s AGNI poem “The Moon Speaks of Polar Bears” was chosen for The Best New Poets 2010.

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