Lone Wolf

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”
– Sir P. G. Wodehouse

I.

Against the rise of the August 15 Louisville pre-dawn,
a boy makes music with his feet, each staggered pump
of his bike’s pedals bringing the clattering babble
of baseball card meeting spoke to the eclipsed houses
of his neighborhood. As he moves his legs numbly,

his stomach raises its early morning protest.
He tops a hill, the sun rushing to meet him,
bathing his face in rose gold. He slows,
sets the bike down on the sidewalk’s curb,
pulls a tangerine from the crumpled brown bag

his mother packed for him. He skins the orange globe
voraciously, letting its zesty pelt fall to the gutter
between his feet. He chews its juicy flesh silently,
listening to the hushed buzz of cars in the stirring
metal city. Sitting alone on this curb, he feels like

everything he sees (tangerine, bicycle, neighborhood,
city) belongs to him, like the world rests in the navy
lint at the bottom of his pockets and he could reach
a sticky hand into his jeans and pull out anything
he wanted. When half of the tangerine has disappeared

down the narrow tunnel of his throat, he wipes dribble
from the corners of his mouth with fraying sleeves, pulls
a Courier-Journal from the top of his pile. He thumbs
through it slowly, scanning headlines for a story to tell
his friends at school. He finds it waiting for him on B5.

II.

YES, IT WAS A WOLF, IN KENTUCKY

It’s a wildlife mystery.

The first documented free-ranging wolf in Kentucky’s modern history was shot and killed by an unsuspecting hunter, state wildlife officials have announced.

No charges are expected to be brought because there’s no reason for any hunter to expect a wolf to be in the state, since they haven’t been here for more than a century, according to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

III.

When the sun rose over the town of Munfordville
on March 16, James Troyer left his home to hunt
on his family’s farm. As he walked through the green
sway of milkweed, goldenrod, round-headed bushclover,

his head was filled with unknown assailants–he could see
his son in Afghanistan being swarmed by hordes of faceless
men in black turbans; he could see the poisoned cells
sprouting again like fungi from the dark, wet walls of his

father-in-law’s lungs. He could not protect his family
from these nebulous shadow-dangers, but in the field,
with his Remington M-32 slung over his shoulder
in American Carry, he could find beasts that would carry

cattle from his pastures, beasts that could hunt his family
and crack their bones like candy canes between acicular
yellow teeth. In his peripheral, he spotted something gray
and four-legged on a hay ridge. From a hundred yards out,

it looked like the coyote he had killed a week before,
but he couldn’t be sure. He slid the Remington off his arm
and raised it to the soft dimple of flesh at his shoulder,
mashing the safety off and guiding the notch at barrel’s end

until it floated between the shoulder blades of the intruder.
He inched closer, twigs cracking like knuckles beneath
his Timberlands, and the furry quadruped bristled. It raised
its head, swiveling on neck’s axis to see the man pointing

his gun at it. It lowered its head and flattened its ears against
its neck, its eyes shining with the smoldering beauty of topaz
in the light and fixed on the two-legged creature. Like his father,
grandfather, and countless other Troyer men before him,

James inhaled to steady his hand, exhaled as he pressed the curved
metal ring, felt the hot rush of celebratory blood in his cheeks
when the beast yelped and fell and didn’t get back up. He didn’t
need to think twice about pulling the trigger—it was in his nature.

IV.

He strung her up by her hocks, laid her
in the bed of his trailer, posed her this way

and that, documenting the animal too large
to be a coyote. Blood dripped from her mouth,

from the raised hackles where the buckshot
turned her torso into a fuzzy sieve, tracing

the course of her sway on the cracked cement
of the garage, covering the toes of his Timberlands,

pooling like a crimson shadow in her wake. He split
her down the middle with a rust spackled bowie knife,

scooping her organs out with bare hands, building
a steaming mound of carnage, sliding the cold steel gently

between her skin and muscles, slicing a few inches
from each side with practiced fingers, peeling furry

flesh away until he had his trophy. When he was finished,
he sent what remained of her body to the state for DNA

testing, where they carved the meaty dagger of her tongue
from its mooring in order to identify what he had killed.

V.

You were a gray wolf, Canis lupus, apex predator
of the wide grasslands of North America for thousands
of years until my kind piled into a boat and ran upon
your shores by mistake. Your ancestors made their homes
where they wanted, forming dens in Texas, the Carolinas,
even California, for a time. The Native Americans respected
your kind, knowing that they formed families that traveled
in packs for life, that they wouldn’t attack man unless provoked,
that theirs was a sister spirit to their own. When we took
this nation, you were our pest, stealing the bison we preyed on
for food and clothing and     whatever     we needed them for
in our colonization tour. We used guns to blast you towards
the brink of extinction, and nobody could stop us; we had taken
care of the Native Americans by then, too. Today, only 9,000
of your gregarious fuzz-faced brethren can raise their howl
as tribute to the moon over this, our stolen country. In our
version of history, you were both a threat to us, so why
would we ever need to hear your version of history?

VI.

What brought you here?

Didn’t you know this land
isn’t your home any more?

VII.

My kind doesn’t like to be challenged. We don’t
like it when something we can’t understand

comes onto our property, threatens our family,
our community. We’ve worked hard to make

things just so around here. We shoot first,
cover our ass later, we are the apex predator,

we can do whatever we want and most
of the time, we’ll get away with it. That’s

why your killer went unpunished. You
are of the minority here, and you were

walking alone—in this country, the man
with the gun will always come out on top.

Didn’t you know that? Didn’t you hear
about what happened to Trayvon?

VIII.

In Louisville, the boy’s eyes glide over the last
sentence of the article on B5 for the fourth time:
Gray wolves have been on the federal endangered
species list, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service
this year declared them recovered, and proposed

taking them off the list. He has been sitting on the curb
for fifteen minutes, eating the remaining tangerine
half with the Courier-Journal shielding his head from
the sun. When he has finished the article, he folds
the paper back up neatly, allowing the light of morning

to flood his retinas. He squints and blinks, trying to adjust
to the harsh rays of the world that had appeared as he read
about the hunter and the wolf in Munfordville. He tosses
what’s left of the orange globe into the gutter and picks
his bike up. He finishes the route quickly, tossing packaged

copies of the daily news onto manicured lawns, front porches,
and gravel driveways. Later, at school, he realizes that ink
from the paper he peeked at on the curb has stained his fingers;
even when he scrubs with soap, he can’t get it off. When his
friends ask him about what’s in the news, he tells them nothing.

They never really care, anyways.

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26 thoughts on “Lone Wolf

  1. Well written blending of fact and fiction. The friends not caring what is in the paper is just further testament to the plight of the wolf – the majority don’t care. As Americans we tend not to care what we trample in the name of progress, in the name of “safety,” in the name of making sure we get what is ours, what we deserve, what we are entitled to. Then again, I don’t really mind a farmer/rancher protecting their livelihood from a perceived threat. The hypocrisy that is man. How can we have it both ways? How can the wolf run free and the farmer be allowed to raise their livestock? We need both…
    This was a well deserved Freshly Pressed. Congratulations.

    • Thanks for reading! I definitely wanted to construct a piece that balanced the point of view of the farmer with my own. The farmer was doing what he thought he needed to do to protect his family and cattle–there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just unfortunate that his prey turned out to be something that hasn’t walked the Kentucky hills in over 150 years. I used this farmer and this story to think about where we are at as a country, and that’s where this poem came from. Thanks again for your kind words!

  2. Wow, amazing work! I could see, hear and feel everything you wrote. I loved the sort of outraged tone in stanza 7 (at least in my head I read it as outraged). And I was really moved by the linking of the hunter, the lone wolf and Trayvon Martin. It’s a bold and emotional story and I loved every word.

    • Thank you! Stanza 7 is definitely where I let the most of myself into the poem. I would say more than anything that I’m frustrated by what happened to the wolf–I can’t be mad at Troyer, for I understand that he couldn’t expect a wolf to be roaming around Munfordville after a 150 year absence. I just wish that I could have seen her for myself.

  3. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this, but I am reading the wolf as both real and allegorical… by that I mean I can, of course, see the literal meaning of the story, but I see the wolf as a representation of any outgroup. If the powerful, vocal majority sees a group as a threat, as an interloper, they feel justified in “murdering” them, figuratively or literally. A beautiful, nuanced piece. Thank you!

    • That’s definitely what I was going for. It seems to me that a lot of times being “othered” in America can be troublesome if not dangerous. Thanks for reading, and for the compliments! I’m really enjoying your blog, as well. Keep posting those wonderful updates.

  4. Wolves are so beautiful It hurts me to my heart to think about them trapped and hunted. I can’t believe we had one around here. Just curious, but if not a wolf, what was the hunter trying to shoot? Some people around here will shoot other people’s dogs, given the “provocation,” by which I mean, they see another’s dog on their property.

  5. I like the variety in this piece, and the structure; how the perspective zooms out and in and out again with the framing of the boy with the tangerine. The sections about James Troyer and the wolf are especially powerful.

  6. Reblogged this on mangaddicted and commented:
    I really liked this..poem? Is it one? I’m not entirely sure.
    It just shows us how ignorant we are to certain matters. We still parctise “The Strongest Survives” even if it’s wrong in many situations. If it’s not our problem, we don’t care. So typical and very human…
    —Kitsune

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