Tell Me About the Wolf
The Gunnywolf at Midcareer
The Gunnywolf wants a nom de guerre,
a cape. Something to set him apart.
He’s been working as a Celtic fiddler
for thirty years now. Half wolf
half fish, he writes on his blog,
up to sixty laps a day in the pool.
Can really feel the difference in his lungs.
He’s out of the woods now
living back east, near his folks.
I remember the smell of him
in our rented house. Up the stairs
late at night after a show, into the back
where my mother was. After her
he went to France and taught the zither.
Before he left he drove me home
in his paper-filled car. He liked to drive
with his knees. My friend was in the back
and as we passed the city jail
the wolf was telling a story
that kept going about how everyone
had loved his encore. Christmas
his big time. He liked to fold himself
into small spaces, he loved
a crowd. Our hatchback
slid across four lanes
and the cars around us made room.
We unspooled as he sang it back to us.
Near the center barrier my friend called out
and he swerved us back
and told me I’d never make it, never
find what it takes to make real art
because to do that you need to let
your little coffee cup life go — the car
was full of cups and he smashed them
one by one against the windshield,
the windows, the wheel.
On PBS the mockingbirds
live in a gated community.
Inside the compound a spiraling hall
and then the little door
behind which the eggs are hidden.
Five thousand beaksful of mud
quarried out and hardened into concrete.
Not even the rain can harm it now.
Along the meadow, sheep and green,
real estate the narrator wants.
The mockingbird nest sits on a fence post
and soon enough the black and brown
neighbors sidle up. Everybody wants
what you’ve built. They want it
more than you. These cowbirds
are patient, they wait along the fence
until the mockingbirds are hungry enough
to leave the nest. Or until the mockingbirds
are not paying attention. Into the nest
a cowbird darts, and within seconds
she’s laid her egg there among the others.
Back out and into the sheepy field.
Her fertility a circus trick, a marvel,
a burden the taxpayers bear. In Baltimore
the mayor called the looters thugs
and then took it back, no one is a thug.
Here is the video of the mother who beat her child
until he dropped what he had taken.
The mockingbird returns and sees the new egg,
drops it onto cold grass. The voice doesn’t say
how she is later punished. How the cowbird
returns to break each egg against the fence.
I was home for a visit last week
when the National Guard took over.
Their tanks cracked our streets
and tangled in streetlights. Not all streets
were wide enough to hold them. Shut it down,
everyone said, shut it down. I took my daughter
to the rally but no one was there. The police
had taken over a payday loan place
and they pretended not to know
where the crowd had gathered.
I could see into the hive
but could not make sense of their words.
The sergeant came out with a billy club
strapped to his leg. This isn’t
my home anymore. I can explain
what was done to Freddie Gray
in the back of the van but not why.
In my Baltimore I was a child.
Oreo, they said if you sat together.
Reverse Oreo. The bathroom stall
kicked open. So many cowbirds
along the fence. When do they sleep?
They appear tireless, always in groups, frightening
newcomers. What does it cost
to be left alone? Sometimes the mockingbird
raises the cowbird chick. It hatches early,
the narrator warns, it grows too big.
The beach was black from our fires.
Christmas Eve, my daughter hung upside down
from my arms and shook.
I thought at first it was a joke.
How does an animal so large hide in the woods?
And then she shook again.
How many stones did the wolf swallow?
Not enough. The sand
is black from our fires.
We swaddled our girl
with hospital wire. It was cold.
Some of the rooms had trees.
Those were the families we were afraid of,
and the black-stitched bears
a bunch of third-graders gave out
with pictures of heaven and messages like
No Matter What. When we returned home
the fog was so thick we could barely see the yard.
Geese banged on the lid of our house.
For a few weeks I had two daughters.
Gauze and theater, hospital gown
in the dress-up bin. Finally one daughter
swallowed the other.
Tell me about the wolf, she said.
The song didn’t make any sense.
I have one daughter now
but her shadow doesn’t always
line up. What is it
to make a child sing.
What animal is it.