The Wolf Reader

George Szirtes - 1948-
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

Related Poems

The Good Gray Wolf

Wanted that red, wanted everything tucked inside
that red, that body, it seemed, turned inside out,
that walking flower, petals furled, leaved
by the trees by the forest path, the yellow basket
marking the center--

			wanted to raise that rose
petal skin to my gray face, barely to brush
that warmth with my cold nose, but I knew she'd cry
for mercy, help, the mother who'd filled the basket
that morning, Wolf, she'd cry, Wolf, and she'd
be right, why should she try to see beyond
the fur, the teeth, the cartoon tongue wet
with anticipation?

			And so I hid behind
a tree as she passed on the path, then ran, as you know,
to her grandmother's house, but not as they say, I knocked
and when she answered I asked politely for her
advice. And then, I swear, she offered me tea,
her bonnet, an extra gown, she gave me more
than advice, she tucked me into a readied bed,
she smoothed my rough fur, I felt light
as a flower, myself, stamened and stemmed in her
sweet sheets.

			Not ate her, you see, but rather became
her, flannel chest for the red head, hood
that hid the pearl that when I touched it flushed
and shone. What big eyes! and she opened the cape,
tongue, mouth to her mouth, and opened everything,
I crooned, crawling inside, wolf to flower,
gray to rose, grandmother into child
again, howl to whisper, dagger to cloak,
my mother father animal arms, disarmed
by love, were all she ever dreamed of.