First Dream

- 1950-

(from Negro Mountain)

Wolves came up the driveway and through the side yard of the old house—this 

was in kindergarten time—and I stood still though I was frightened 

to be in their midst and they took note of me but did 

not bite or threaten me. The light was light I had known—by then—

having seen it in the hour before a thunderstorm: dull, bitter light, and everywhere though

without apparent source. The wolves had ragged gray pelts—bad fur, tufts

of it—and their hindquarters were skinny in comparison to their very big shoulders.

They’d come in apparently from the street, Liscum Drive, and onto the property (which 

was nearly an acre and had once been a farmstead), and they parted around where 

I was standing. It was almost literally a wave of them, those wolves, as 

though they’d come up the hill from West Third Street or somehow got through 

the chain-link fence of the V.A. cemetery that traced the hill 

on Liscum Drive.  

	       A white friend wrote to me, the human figure passes through the animal 

pack unharmed. And she said that she saw the dream as being not about 

the wolves as much as passing through adversity, this exchange 

decades after the dream itself, which had been a thing of moment—visual, 

tinctured with obvious anxiety—and current in my memory for that time before the year she 

and I met.

	   Make no mistake, dear and articulate friends, I knew it    

was an unstable moment. My thumbs  

were different, I’d seen, from one 

another. Beyond the driveway had been pear and walnut trees.  

One passes through a wood, or a track does.  

A dull feeling overtakes you in the field.  

There had been a gate at the driveway but only

the posts remained, grown through by the hedges that stopped on either side 

of the entrance from the street.  What do hills 

summarize? Origin stories? Right

and left separated long before this. Bait me, love

—I can pass until I speak.  

Related Poems

The Wolf Reader

for Marilyn Hacker

There were the books, and wolves were in the books.
They roamed between words. They snarled and loped
through stories with bedraggled wolfish looks

at which the hackles rose and the world stopped
in horror, and she read them because she knew
the pleasures of reading, the page being rapt

with the magic of the fierce, and she could do
the talk of such creatures. So one day
when teacher asked if there were any who

could read, she rose as if the task were play,
to claim the story where she felt at home.
The tale was Riding Hood, the wolf was grey.

The fierceness was the wood where grey wolves roam.
She read it round, she read it through and through
It was as if the wolf were hers to comb,

like those bedraggled creatures in the zoo
that, trapped behind the bars, would snarl and stride
as you'd expect a page or wolf to do.


About this poem:
"'The Wolf Reader' came out of a formal exercise in which people told each other a dream and this dream set me off. I do write a good deal in formal patterns and the poem was written fast as my poems often are—I need momentum—then I fiddled with it for a while without changing anything much except punctuation and an odd word. The outside world, the inner world, and other people's inner worlds constitute a continuum like a river in which any imagination may fish. Rivers are not to be owned. This river brought up a wolf and a book."

George Szirtes