illustration by Kim Parko

Big Bear Berry Preserves

There was a commotion out in the courtyard and I looked out my window to see Senior being attacked by the Big Bear and I ran out of the house and into the courtyard and yelled, Stop it Big Bear! and Big Bear turned to me with blood on his snout and I saw that he had taken a bite out of Senior.

Why did you do that? I asked the Big Bear, and the Big Bear said, He’s stolen all of my berries.

Senior looked at the bite Big Bear had taken out of his arm and said, This is going to require stitches, and he went into his surgery to sew himself up.

I said to the Big Bear, So Senior took all your berries? and the Big Bear said, Yes the brambles are berry-less, and I caught Senior picking them in the dead of night.

I told the Big Bear I’d investigate and that, until I found some answers, to please leave Senior alone.

I went into the surgery where Senior had nearly sewn his wound up and Senior said, Remind me again why you married him? and I said, We’re not married, and he said, Shouldn’t you be? and I said, You yourself forbade it, and Senior said, Well, if he was my son-in-law, maybe he’d stop mauling me, and I said, I’m not sure if I love him.

I asked Senior, Have you been taking berries from the Big Bear? and Senior said, Were those his berries? in an innocent way, but I knew he knew whose berries they were, and I said, What have you done with the Big Bear’s berries? and he said, Look in the cupboard, and I went to the cupboard and behind the jugs of moonshine and vials of antivenom and bottles of sleeping pills and beakers of sky and canisters of milk and the spray cans of insecticide, were jars labeled Big Bear Berry Preserves.


Barely a Shadow

I found the Big Bear in the forest looking for his shadow, and I said, What are you doing? and then I noticed that he was so thin that there was barely a shadow cast from him.

I wrapped the Big Bear, who was now the Thin Bear, in swaddling clothes and deposited him in the nut in my chest that was now sprouting over him and cupping him beneath its bloom.

I looked around the forest and there were other animals who sat in congregations and their shadows were as thin as grass and were bent by the slightest breeze.

And I thought to myself, Why is Senior hoarding the Big Bear Berry Preserves? and the thought made me angry as I looked at the wispy shadows limping throughout the forest.

I went back into the house and reached into the cupboard while the Thin Bear stayed curled beneath the blossom of my nut.



I reached in the cupboard and took out all the jars of Big Bear Berry Preserves and brought them to the forest, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, and I gave a jar to each animal and still there were jars left to sell.

The preserves were delicious and word got around and we began to make a nice little profit and the glasslike animals grew until their shadows were well fed.

It was then that I realized that there was probably a secret ingredient in the Big Bear Berry Preserves and that maybe these animals were not supposed to eat it, and it was then that Senior came into the forest because he had caught on to what was happening with his preserves.

He found me and said, Junior, you need to give me back my preserves, and I said, They’ve all been sold for a profit, and he said, Then you need to give me the profit, and that’s when the Big Bear emerged from the trees with an enormous shadow trailing him and Senior looked the Big Bear square in the eyes and said, When are you going to make a decent woman of Junior?

The Big Bear paused to consider Senior’s question and said, I’ve proposed many times but Junior is not sure if she loves me, and they both looked at me and I realized my nut had retracted its blossom and was now just a nut again.



The animals were addicted to the Big Bear Berry Preserves and I asked Senior, What is your secret ingredient? but he refused to tell me and the animals’ shadows were growing so large that they threatened to overtake the animals and if that happened the forest would no longer have the animals but only their shadows and their shadows were voracious.


Secret Ingredient

When the forest became nothing but animal shadows and the animal shadows began to raze large areas of the forest with their voracious shadow mouths, Senior finally told me what the secret ingredient in the Big Bear Berry Preserves was.

He took me into his laboratory and showed me his refining device and he put some brown muck into an opening in the device and the brown muck circulated through a series of tubes and then it was boiled in chamber and then it was filtered through a membrane and then it was dried by a wind he funneled in from outside and then it was ground to a fine, shimmering dust and Senior said, That fine, shimmering dust is gold.



I went to the forest and lured the animal shadows with jars of Big Bear Berry Preserves.

I led them to the pyramid that I had built from the gold bricks that I had removed from the walls of our house.

The summer solstice was minutes away and, as I crowded in the pyramid with the animal shadows, I felt the shadows gnawing and nipping at me and I hoped the solstice was coming soon before the animal shadows consumed me, and right when I felt the animal shadows prodding aggressively at the soft skin of my underbelly, the sun tumbled into the pyramid through a hole I had deliberately not closed, and I watched the light cloud in, and I watched the shadows turn to shimmering dust and float to the ground, and then the sun tumbled out, and I took a broom from the utility closet in the pyramid and began to sweep up the dust into a pile on the floor and then into the dustpan.



I took the shimmering dust to the dustbin and I deposited it and I closed the dustbin tightly and I put it on the wheelbarrow and I wheeled it to the boat by the shore of the lake and I loaded it on the boat and I rowed the boat to the middle of the lake and deposited the dustbin into the water and thought to myself, They’ll know what to do with it down there.

Then I went into Senior’s laboratory and took a hammer to his refining device.


“Refining Device” is excerpted from Junior, a larger work.


Kim Parko is plant-based and porous and creates in the nested and nesting spheres of mother, partner, maker, and hedge witch. She is the author of The Grotesque Child (Co-winner 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Press Book Prize), Cure All (Caketrain Press, 2010) and the chapbook overburden (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). Recent poetry and fiction have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Boston Review, Black Warrior Review and elsewhere. Through the disease and devastation of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, she listens from roots, pockets the poppet of intuition, and conjures the old mother as guide. She is a professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts.