There! There Wolf!

Several years ago a local magazine held a poetry contest. I didn’t win but a friend of mine did–and his was the better poem–so I went with him to the awards ceremony. I started talking to one of the judges who told me how much he enjoyed my poem. Well, you lose some, you lose some. It’s October and the Moon is waxing and today happens to be the birthday of both Dylan Thomas (born 1914) and Sylvia Plath (born 1932) I thought I’d wax poetic, since that makes poetic all shiny, and also share this poem again:

Werewolf

He, my best friend and I, were just bouncing

A fuzzy gray ball that had lost most

Of its bounce back and forth. The dog,

The big sheepdog who lived next door,

Was in its own yard, just on the periphery.

It was always there like the broken sink

In the vacant lot we went to sometimes

To look down at our houses. And then

It jumped at him, knocked him down, that

Engine in its throat humming loud enough

To be heard over him screaming. I ran.

I couldn’t tell where he was under the dog.

I’d been told not to run, that was wrong,

But what was I supposed to do? His mother

Was already coming out right at me

And I got behind her. The dog was gone.

And then he was gone.

The big blue car came

Out from behind the house and he went in,

Still screaming, a towel pressed to his face

With a stain starting to come through.

 

I heard enough from what his mother told mine

To see what happened, why the dog was gone.

Two men from the pound came and stood

On his porch and stared at themselves

In the man’s wraparound sunglasses. I’d seen him

Through the slits in the fence that kept his back

Yard from the neighborhood, so I could see him

In his white t-shirt, V-neck, telling them they

Were welcome to take the dog if they were willing

To come in and get it. And they said they’d be back.

 

That was the summer of the drought. Toward school’s

End I watched the corn come up emerald then turn gold

In a field just past the road my street disappeared into.

A year later the field itself was replaced by turnkey

Condominiums, every other one painted yellow.

 

That was the summer my quarter-Cherokee grandmother

Pulled down from the overhead crawlspace an old book

Of tribal stories and I learned that in the beginning

The wolf and the man used to sit together by the fire,

Until the dog came down from the hills and drove

The wolf away. Now the wolf lives alone in the hills.

 

I had to pee. My dog and I were out

Together in the summer night, following each

Other and finding our way in the dark by smell and sound.

If I went back inside I’d lose my night vision

So I dropped my shorts by a tree and let go, the stream

Reflecting the pieces of streetlamp that came through

The trees. I couldn’t see the mark I left but I knew

It was there. My territory. I was zipping back up

When I heard my dog barking in the street. I ran,

And there she was with the man who lived two doors up

Pinned against his car. She went after him like a stranger.

Dammit! You’d better get this dog away from me

Or I swear I’ll do somethin’! I’ll kill it! I swear!”

He swore and leaned at me while I grabbed my dog

And put my face in her ruff and pulled her back to me.

It was time to go in. The next day I was in my front yard

When he came home. He came over and didn’t look

At me, just said, Son, I wanna apologize about last night.

I’m sorry. I just wasn’t myself. You understand. He raised

His fist and something gold flew from it, sparkling

And I caught a butterscotch medallion. I understood.

I knew more than he realized, had known since the first

Week of summer when I was coming up the back steps

To water the bean plants I’d brought home from school

In a paper cup where they’d sprout and die. I heard

My father talking, telling someone who’d dropped by

Something so serious I knew I shouldn’t be listening.

 

He’d been drinking all day.

Maybe around sunset he decided he

Wanted fried chicken for supper and sent

His wife out to get it. We hadn’t been here

That long and didn’t know any of this

Was going on. She was gone too long to suit

Him or something, I really don’t know, but while

She was gone he decided he was going to kill

Her when she got back. She

Got away somehow and came down to our

House. We let her in and he stood there on

The porch and yelled and swore. The kids were

Gone that night, away at camp. I called

The cops and it took eight of them to get him

Into one of their cars. She stayed with us

That night and told us, It’s over, he

Won’t do this to me ever again. We

Didn’t know it had happened before.

We saw them next week at the pool

Holding hands. She smiled, but he wouldn’t

Look at us. I thought, Never again.

They’re lucky it wasn’t worse than it ended

Up being with all those guns he has in there.”

 

This was news to me. I thought all attics

Were the same, webby with years of old clothes

And moth dust and naked bulbs over rivers

Of cotton candy insulation. Now I saw the inside

Of the three-cornered roof with blue-steel bars

Marching along the walls like corrugated wallpaper

Or bare columns propping the whole structure.

 

On the dead-end street late in summer

The world was hot and thick all night. Not even the moon

Frozen outside my window could cool it. In drought

Wind in the leaves sounds like footsteps.

You wake up believing someone else is in the house

And the phone is in the other room or dead.

There at the yard’s edge the jingle of metal

On metal means tags for rabies, or just

House keys, someone else coming home. Across

The street is the opal of a doorbell

Or a cigarette of someone blindfolded.

The movement I see in the window is my hands

Washing the dishes, the reflection imposed on

The brown stubble of the yard. If I went out

Water on my hands would freeze and break.

I keep all the doors locked from inside.

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6 Comments

  1. Alllison

    It is also the birthday of Allison Everett (born 1974). Great poem – I would have given it a prize!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Wow! Happy belated birthday and thanks for the would-be prize!

      Reply
  2. Jennifer Mugrage

    I love this poem but it looks like I still can’t comment on your blog.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you and it looks like your comment made it through!

      Reply
  3. ANN J KOPLOW

    Amazing poem, deserving of many prizes. Thank you, my friend.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The real prize is your comment.

      Reply

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