Frances McConnel
Boy with Brain Tumor Goes on Safari for Kodiak Brown Bear


Our wishes are limited only by the child’s imagination and often
reflect the activities and ways of life to which the child is accustomed.
- James E. Gordon, Pres. Make-a-Wish Foundation.



The summer before high school my first boy friend -
who was also our neighbor - showed me the rifle
his dad had just given him for his fifteenth birthday
his hand smoothing its cunning lines.

“How come,” he said, as always somewhat condescending,
“girls can never see the beauty of a gun?”
I stroked it after him, though gingerly. After all,
wasn’t I also an Alaskan, even if not by birth?

He thought me sentimental and a little pathetic
in the way I loved him. Which I was.
I wanted to deny for him my measly passions:
for the put-upon, the abandoned, the mild
animals below us on the food chain.

“Don’t tell me you don’t love your rabbit skin parka,”
he’d say, “And the taste of moose steak.
And you can bully your kid brother
as good as the next guy.”

I thought then that it hurt him,
the contradictions he found in people,
though, actually, he sounded gleeful.

He had a speech he used to make
about how it might not be such a bad thing -
the Nuclear Holocaust - how it would clean
the human species of those misfit genes
that would have been plucked out if evolution
had been allowed to go on grooming itself naturally.

Those hips, say, that can’t give birth
without the help of the knife.
Women should be able to drop their loads
in a trampled bit of grass,
the way they do it in China (or was it along the Amazon?)
Otherwise, what was the point of being a woman?

We had NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC back then,
but not the word sexist. If we had
and it had been stamped on the forehead
of just about every boy I knew,
would that have changed anything?

“What about your eyesight?” I’d say.
(I didn’t dare mention his ulcer.)
“If the blast busted your glasses,
I guess you’d have to starve.”

“And good riddance,” he replied. “God knows
I’m a poor specimen for breeding.”
And then that laugh made to hurt me,
or something inside himself, something
that showed in his baby features:
the pug nose, the round face, the plush mouth
that, in his soft kisses, gave in more than it took up.

I wondered if he were the kind of boy
who would have to torment whatever he loved,
as his father had done before him.
I didn’t wait around to find out.

He married a nursing student and lives
on a small ranch outside Missoula.
They have seven high-spirited kids. For years
he’s been with the Sear’s TV Repair Department.
His wife writes in her Christmas newsletter
how he’s “more Right Wing than God.”

Does she mean the kind of God
who would have no choice
but to grant the last wish of a teenage boy
to hunt down and shoot a Kodiak grizzly -
in Spring when you can’t tell
boar from sow and the sow has cubs
stashed away somewhere in a den
waiting to be orphaned - and hang its
snarling, sawdust-stuffed head between rock star
posters and get-well cards from his classmates
in the bedroom up under the eaves
his mother will leave unchanged as a shrine?