Way back before, goes the Inuit story,
Bears and humans could change places whenever they liked. Swap skins.
The polar bear was king. Nanuq.
Or maybe queen. Aurora. I want to talk about Aurora.
Size of an iceberg.
Aurora: an artificial bear, a bear-ship-puppet of steel and strings
A grand, temperamental, clunking experiment dreamt up out of desperate love for icy wilderness
Mapped out in an artist’s obsessive sketches
Then built in a factory warehouse: angle-ground, welded, fork-lift trucked –
A giant born sleeping.
Our mouths slack, we bowed at her paws
We climbed inside her
She woke up.
Slow and clumsy at first, she creaked out of the car park and shuddered off into Lambeth.
We did not anticipate how the upturned faces along the way would affect her.
How could we have foreseen how she would respond to those tiny people in their furry costumes and facepaint?
In a single heart-stopping instant
A moment of emergence
She changes from absurd fantasy into potent warrior queen
And we are her foot-soldiers.
The crowds are wide-eyed. Old and young cry out in wonder.
We pick up speed.
My heart is pounding as I strain to lift her foot in time with the others.
Hands raw muscle cramp breath catch:
Is this carnival or penance?
Oh, how we long to atone for our sins.
Over and over we lift your huge feet
I cradle your paw
You shelter me with your giant flanks
As I struggle to serve you
Some vital part of me becomes part of you
A you so vast I’m gasping with the shock of recognition:
A giant us.
And now we are running, inexorable as a glacier.
Stones caught in the ice – we the ice, we the roar
Roaring grief, rage, epic love.
Aurora I would go with you to the end of the earth
I would press my hands against your melting ice
I would push my face into the fur of your wounded belly
I would swap skins