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Saturday, 4 August 2012

Keeping the Bears in Line

File:Teddy Bear Factory, Ironbridge - - 1027413.jpg

Teddy Bear Factory, Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge, Shropshire. The Teddy Bear Factory has closed, but while it was open, discipline among the bears must have been pretty strict, as the spikes on these railings show: photo by Mike White, 27 October 2008

The Orange bears with soft friendly eyes
Who played with me when I was ten,
Christ, before I'd left home they'd had
Their paws smashed in the rolls, their backs
Seared by hot slag, their soft trusting
Bellies kicked in, their tongues ripped
Out, and I went down through the woods
To the smelly crick with Whitman
In the Haldeman-Julius edition,
And I just sat there worrying my thumbnail
Into the cover -- What did he know about
Orange bears with their coats all stunk up with soft coal
And the National Guard coming over
From Wheeling to stand in front of the millgates
With drawn bayonets jeering at the strikers?

I remember you would put daisies
On the windowsill at night and in
The morning they'd be so covered with soot
You couldn't tell what they were anymore.

A hell of a fat chance my orange bears had!

Kenneth Patchen: The Orange Bears, from Red Wine and Yellow Hair, 1949

File:Teddy Fence, Coalbrookdale - - 1160588.jpg

Teddy Fence, Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge, Shropshire. These delightful heads are on the back fence of the former Merrythought Teddy Bear factory, now sadly closed. The factory units are being re-let for small industrial and retail businesses: photo by Gordon Cragg, 13 February 2009


Anonymous said...

that is those orange bears..!!

TC said...

Kenneth Patchen grew up during the Depression in a working class family in the steel mill town of Youngstown, Ohio, home of Youngstown Sheet & Tube.

One might imagine Ironbridge, site of the defunct Teddy Bear factory (parallel in trajectory of decline, though in smaller scale, to the demise of Y S&T) as a sort of early Industrial Revolution sister city to Youngstown. It was in the Coalbrookdale district of Ironbridge that Abraham Darby perfected the technique of smelting iron with coke, allowing much cheaper production of iron.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

We think they can take it
but they can't

have hearts too
they look like us

but with big heads
sharper mani

it figure
that their replicas
are filled with foam
with straw
with air
to be all
squeezed out

Down the path
in the grasses
a straight line
does not meander
no nonsense
about food
about the water
about the others
waiting for them

Susan Kay Anderson said...


It wasn’t raining so Shane was probably where he always was, just on the edge of the road where it curved over to the tide pools. Irma, having gone to Vegas to live with her son, left her house and Shane in the care of a stooped man who had a milk crate on the back of his moped. Bad teeth.
Inside the glass walls, he sits in Irma’s easychair and bends over, preoccupied. His feet are bare. They look extremely white. All this is taken in at a glance. Once, the lights suddenly went off as I was petting Shane just under his chin, on his neck. When this happened, I froze in place and slinked off to the very dark part of the street, only to have some other dogs start barking and announce my presence.
Once, when I was new to petting Shane, he actually got up and moved a bit away from me. I thought after this that maybe my petting him had hurt. So now, I only lightly feel his ribs and the side of his head with the eye intact, the left side, careful to avoid the milky other eye. It was just by accident that I discovered he liked being scratched under his chin. If he’s there with the milky eye side on the pavement he won’t lift his head very much to look at me. If he’s sitting there like a hare, very peaceful, yet ready for action, I’ll just graze the place in between his shoulder blades and give it a mild scratch. I’ll also give him two or three short pats, careful not to knock too hard. He sounds and feels hollow, bones brittle. Like a straw and mud house. It could all be a dream, my visits with Shane, but they’re not.

Sometimes, I see a shadow of something and it’s not him, just the shadow—just the shadowy damp by the hedges, the curve in the road. It’s as if I’m petting the lava, the pahoehoe when I reach into that shadow, so dark so deep and he’s not there.
When he is there, I feel along and pet him, however gently—it always seems to be one of his ribs, sticking out—a dirty matted part—something lumpy. He is slowly disappearing, melting into the porous soil, the cinder, the tide pools’ brackish water.

When he stands, wafer-like, a wiry wave, there, on the road, he is so thin, he lurches forward propelled by dust and dirt, by physical properties of inertia—of the forward laws.
Every time, I know he’ll be gone. Will disappear, will disintegrate. He won’t be there. But, he’s not quite there, already. He’s not exactly chipper and present. Or, is he?
He was languishing—that's how I feel that he is me or some familiar version of me, how I could fit into his story and he in mine. Just now, he seems to be a dog sleeping in the same place, night after night (when it is not raining) right along the road, sometimes, his eye is (the milky one) resting on the pavement (warm?) and waiting, waiting for Irma to come home from living with her son in that last residence, and leaving Shane behind.
The last few times around, he was sitting upright. The moon was full, dreamy. He sat like a hare, Duerer’s, alert, pup-like, waiting. I can smell my fingers an hour later when I am home and still there,

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Heroes that can no longer take it? Off with their heads!

Wooden Boy said...

There's heroism in sticking with poetry when Whitman won't cut it, the soot soils every guileless childhood sign and the National Guard do their usual schtick.

"...the smelly crick..."
"...worrying my thumbnail into the cover..."
"...their coats all stunk up with soft coal..."

There's no foreman eyeing up production here; he is writing it all out on the page.

TC said...

While having your head on a pike or a spike can hardly be thought of as any sort of honour, in any circumstance, still there is an odd dignity in the thought of those defiant (?) bears on strike against their ingrate manufacturer.