:: Article

Black Bear

By Justin Bendell.


Black Bear

The man lived in a tenement on K Street, south of the dog food factory. Fifth floor. This was very high to him, but not as high as he’d ever been.

Out the window crusted with gray soot, he watched beige sunlight dribble in and, like microbes suddenly in focus, bring the grime to life.

Far out, past the tarred rooftops and black curls of smoke, were the mountains.

Suddenly, the man felt hunger. He longed for more than eggs.

Campbell’s alphabet, leg of lamb, Texas toast.

He’d eaten the last of the seeds.

He was hollow, full of holes, hair falling out.

Soon would be winter, the world’s sunflower gone ripe.

In bed he would listen to fists smacking skin. Alley fights. The blows, full of steam and electricity. He felt the impact on his chest, his sagging cheeks—the kinetic crunch, knuckles into sockets.

He threw hot dogs out the window hoping them to fly.

He listened to Be-Bop. The sound, the pulse, the little lift. Irregular rhythms that mirrored his heart.

A dog howled. A woman cried into her laundry.

Any touch would do.

On clear days he saw the mountains.

He’d been a black bear, once—his heart no frail thing.



Justin Bendell is a writer and assistant professor living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His stories and poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Washington Square ReviewThuglit, and others. For those making note, he prefers big bluestem, black metal, and tacos.


Digital collage featuring newspaper advertisements for KEN-L-RATION Dog Food (c.1941) and TEDDY BEARSThe Best Plaything Ever Invented (c.1908), as well as illustrations of black and brown bear pawprints from William H. Wright’s The Grizzly Bear: The Narrative of a Hunter-Naturalist, Historical, Scientific and Adventurous (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1909).

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, December 2nd, 2016.