How to Cook a Wolf
By Adrian Blevins
‘If your mother’s like mine wanting you honeyed and blithe
you’ll get cooked by getting evicted
since the mothers can teach with a dustpan the tons of modes of tossing.
And the fathers will lift your eyes too-early-too-open:
the fathers can creep up on anything when it’s still too wet
to cloister with their weeping and strand you like a seed
or cook at the carnivals with the can-do caroling
and storefronts and foodstuffs and annulments and Scotch
and off-handed fucking and walking out and moving on
until they’re cooking the drift of you wanting a whole bayou up in you
and cooking and cooking the gist
of you needing your crannies hot with a good man’s body-silt
until your head is stuffed with a pining for diapers
and the most minuscule spoons made mostly of silver
and Ajax too and Minwax Oh
in this the dumbstruck story of the American female
as a cut of terracotta and some kindling in a dress
while howling at the marrow of the marrow of the bone.’
Word 1 – eyes – those two holes on the front of our faces which we use to see the physical world around us, if we’ve been so blessed with that gift. If this word were to be replaced with:
- Hopes, then we have the beginning of a maybe uplifting poem. Oh, Mom has been a little harsh, kicking us out, but dad is going to list our hopes! Totally doesn’t match the rest of the poem, but would be an interesting up and down, rollercoaster effect.
- Fears, then we are starting to creep closer to something sinister. Fathers are already imposing, and it’s said that girls have a different relationship with their fathers than their mothers (which I guess is true-ish, since no two relationships are the same) but fear of a father is something no one wants to have to endure. And to be followed by ‘too-early-too-open:’ leans too close to incest to be comfortable reading. Changing ‘eyes’ to fear morphs Father from someone who teaches and is an early model for maleness into a monster.
- Hands, then we are back to a more comfortable, physical type description. Changing ‘eyes’ to ‘hands’ moves the daughter closer to a physical object though, instead of a learning being. When followed by ‘too-early-too-open:’ hands seem to drop something.
Word 2 – cloister – seclude or shut up in or as if in a convent or monastery. I love this word. It puts me in mind of the old sayings about shipping a ‘bad girl’ off to a convent to protect her from herself, a threat of rehabilitation into cultural norms. If we replace this word with:
- Harness, then Father has shifted away from just hiding something (or someone) away and moved closer to making use of them. When followed by ‘with their weeping’ harness feels more like Father is manipulating the daughter into matching his ideals.
- Harass, then we see a different side of Father. He’s still manipulating, like with ‘harness’ but he’s actively attempting to work on the daughter. Harass is a pretty strong word, tougher than annoy, but gets lost if it’s not coupled with sexual (in today’s society.) By himself, though, harass is actually just as tough. To harass someone with your tears, to be constantly at them, bugging them, forcing them to hear you cry until they can’t hardly stand it anymore…and then ‘strand you like a seed.’ Here, you’ve been set to grow, but abandoned by the person who mentally scarred you.
- Release, then we see Father as a weaker character. In changing ‘cloister’ to ‘release,’ we are taking away fathers ability to confine. Everything in the poem that comes after that point would be moot, because the strong male influencing figure has no power to influence.
Word 3 – strand – to abandon, leave alone, without the mean with which to continue… If we change ‘strand’ to:
- Plant, then we have a logical, though cliché, line of thinking. Father is planting a seed that grows into this person who is a wolf at the end of the poem and has passed through everything between seed and marrow. While it makes sense, ‘plant’ is boring.
- Pick, then we’re presented with a strange paradox. Pick is usually associated with a matured fruit or flower, not the seed from which it grows. The tension continues. We could see Father moving in a dainty way, as if ‘picking’ a seed off of a bun, or we could see him being rude, picking the seed from between his teeth at the dinner table. ‘Pick’ also adds a nice touch to the cadence of the line, stands up by himself, sticks out.
- Fertilize, then we are pretty much back to ‘plant,’ though with a touch of spice (or cow flop.) In fertilizing the seed, Father would be giving it that which it needs to grow. We could also see this word as the actual act of fertilization, which is what fathers’ do (that’s how they become fathers, at least biologically.) If we follow the second line of thought, we sort of start down the weird, uncomfortable incest path again, which just doesn’t need to happen.
Word 4 – Foodstuffs – various things to eat. If we replace this with:
- Food, then the poem falls flat. The line loses its place within its brothers and sisters and becomes boring. Plain ‘food’ doesn’t match the rhythm of the poem or the flow. While it does technically mean the same thing, it just doesn’t work.
- Trash, then we are presented with changed tone. The ‘storefronts,’ ‘annulments,’ and ‘Scotch’ all take on a more disposable likeness. Instead of stores where one would shop, if we switch to ‘trash’ the store fronts suddenly have boards over them. The annulments become an even stronger reminder of failure, instead of a hope for a brighter future. Scotch is still Scotch, just in a bigger glass. All the cooking that comes before and all the cooking that comes after ‘foodstuffs’ changes in character too if we switch the words. Trash makes all that cooking smell and taste like something unhealthy. The poem already indicates that the life of a woman can be, and is often, not exactly daisies and roses. But at least it’s not always rubbish. If we change ‘foodstuffs’ to trash, then that’s all that’s available to eat: trash, indicating that the woman is no better than some mongrel dog, instead of a noble wolf.
- Vegetable, then we see the opposite of trash. In changing the ‘foodstuffs’ to vegetable, we see a rebirthing processes. There’ a touch of cycle back to the ‘seed’ Father abandoned, and even the ‘honeyed’ that Mother wanted us to be. Vegetables not only provide substance, they grow, mature, change, bears fruits, more seeds and more plants. ‘Vegetable’ would give a more positive vibe to the poem, but would be counterproductive to the strong images of the female as a wolf. You’ll hardly ever catch a wolf gnawing on a carrot.
Word 5 – Dumbstruck – in awe, unable to articulate an idea. If we change ‘dumbstruck’ to:
- Honorable, then the line picks up on a near punch you in the face sarcasm that doesn’t fit with the rest of the poem in tone. While it works with the general idea, or meaning, of the poem, ‘honorable’ certainly doesn’t read like the true meaning of the word itself. It’s almost impossible to use ‘honorable’ in place of ‘dumbstruck’ without sort of sneering (I tried like 4 times.) If we could read ‘honorable’ with its true meaning, it simply wouldn’t make much sense. Everything that’s happen to make this woman who she is at the end of the poem doesn’t have any honor in it. Though it would stand to question, has she become honorable because of her experiences?
- Frightening, then we have a bland but accurate portrayal of the content of the poem. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman of a certain age, but this poem touches close to the mark as far as what we have to experience in order to become what we end up being (whatever that may be.) Life is scary, and the line that follows, ‘as a cut of terracotta and some kindling in a dress,’ is mildly threatening.
- Pithy (as in concise), then we have an interesting and truthful word to replace ‘dumbstruck.’ ‘Pithy’ also changes the tone of the last few lines. ‘Dumbstruck’ reads more like awe or even unintelligent. ‘Pithy’ reads as a stronger, more positive word that helps to hold the woman up instead of pushing her down.
Sarah Ockershausen Delp
Side note: My tattoo artists name is Cody Blevins, small world huh?
Blevins, Adrian. “How to Cook a Wolf.” 2008. Poetry Foundaion. Web. Nov 2016. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/51689>.
**Source: Poetry (October 2008)