Jennifer Franklin

Polar Bear & Memento Mori: Stradivarius
June 21, 2019 Franklin Jennifer


I am relieved. For twenty-seven years,
he swam laps all day, slicing the water—

his seven hundred pounds‚ muscle,
tendon, yellowing fur, black eyes

have all turned to ash. The week you
were diagnosed, I pushed your stroller

thirty-three blocks for our first pilgrimage
to the zoo. You recognized him

from your board book and flapped
your arms in sync with his strokes.

Unseasonably warm in October, we stood—
stunned inside sweaters—embroidered

with flowers of forgetfulness. I was
the only one, fixed in front of his small tank,

who saw how sad it was that he barreled
in backstrokes of figure eights. His giant paws

slashed the cloudy water, knowing
he would never get anywhere, despite

how hard he tried. Sixteen years later,
you still run or pace back and forth

in our living room, with or without music,
babbling your indecipherable language.

Your swimmers’ shoulders cut the empty air
all night as you make patterns on the threadbare rug.



In a few decades, they will go to sleep. Even
the greatest instruments must die; their wounded
wood will no longer make the same sounds they’ve made
for three centuries. The mayor of Cremona shuts the town,
blocks the cobblestone streets for five weeks so musicians
can record thousands of scales and arpeggios in quiet.
Each car remains parked and silenced; all the buzzing
lightbulbs in the concert hall stand unscrewed.

I love the citizens of my grandparents’ home,
believing humans will still be alive to hear music.
I want them to play these recordings
as the world ends, each unique violin reaching out
to the great concert hall of the universe—
all the unoccupied velvet chairs.

Jennifer Franklin is the author of three poetry collections including If Some God Shakes Your House (Four Way Books, 2023). She is the recipient of a City Artist Corps/NYFA grant in poetry a CRCF grant in literature and teaches poetry workshops in Manhattanville’s MFA program and at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she is Program Director.