“bear/bare” by Jamie Cattanach


“If you could imagine yourself an animal, what creature or beast would you be?” 

Forest wanderer, at home in wild thickets. Fat, not thick: berry-gorged and running through the thick of it, down the thick of it, into the thick of it – 

Good. Good for what? We walked up through the heat of it, the old new burn, another. It hadn’t been my plan. (A friend, once, of my constant leggings-and-tank-top style, style in quotation marks: you look like you could up and walk into the woods at any time.) 

And so I did. My thick body able, if awkward, carefully crawling through the destruction-strewn rocks toward Punchbowl Falls, over algae-slicked river rocks, blind groping. How I gasped at first, when my thighs went into the water. When it rose to my chest. When I sunk down soul-first into it, the cold a breathless pressure, a relief. 

We slip-slid onto an island in the punchbowl, perched on the massive downed Doug fir whose death made it a bridge. My skin burned out of the water, a rebound heat, internal – the life of me, zinging across my sternum. Electric. The waterfall pummeled down and over, eternal or as close to it as we get. I wanted closer, wanted more. 

And so I dove in bodily, frog-kick, dog-paddle, all systems go toward the source at the center, the endless rushing, this churn that has run ceaseless behind my back every day I’ve been alive, and before. I paused and tread water, already panting only twenty feet out. I ducked my head under, pulled up wet and slicked back, seal. Then kept going, kept kicking, pushed toward the living colossus, pulsing water-flow lifesource, place I’d never been before I belonged. 

I pressed and pressed until I could no longer, and as soon as I stopped she pushed me away, sent me back where I came from, expanding and exploding like the star-lit night sky fabric, all that ancient light dashing away and toward us at once. I floated on my back, let breath move my body, pulse me under the cirque of surviving trees. And then I walked up strong onto the stony solid, free, cotton shirt suctioned to this belly I once starved to shrink, to this core of me, this the place where I keep it, where I keep me, where I am. 

Jamie Cattanach is a writer from south Florida currently based in Portland, Oregon. Her poems, essays, and reportage have been featured in popular media outlets like SELF, HuffPost, Ms. Magazine, and CNBC as well as journals like Fourth Genre, Nashville Review, DMQ Review, Signal Mountain Review, Sweet: A Literary Confection and others. She’s a Tin House ’22 alumn and a reader for the essays column at The Rumpus. She’s working on her first book.