Listen to Dan Chiasson reading this poem here. In quiet, in the exquisite privacy of a cave, a bear is giving birth. Outside the cave a steady rain falls
but here there are no echoes, only the sound
of her convulsing body and her babies’ cries.
Her cubs are white, screaming lumps, eyeless until
she licks their eyes into place, bald until
she paints fur up and down them with her tongue.
It is a litter of five at least; it is hard to see
how many have burrowed under her soft belly.
Also, this is ancient Rome; it is hard to see through
so much time. It makes you wonder how many
other beautiful sights are hidden away in time,
a cavelike element famous for its dimness. Now she
and her cubs are emerging from the cave, leaving
one weakling behind. He is lame, and will not survive
this rainy night two thousand years ago. By now
he is vanishing into the floor of the dark cave,
even his newly painted fur, even his fresh eyes.
By now he’s gone entirely from view.
All the caves on this hill are identical again.