"Feed Your Wolves," "Erosion 4," and "Things in Themselves"

Feed Your Wolves


1. yetzer tov

The aged, worn hymnal
near my bed was given
to me by Grandfather—

the split leather and pages
yellowed like coffee-stained
teeth to guide me in singing

praise like the Methodist
I never have been:   Once,
my grandfather told me

that in every man two
wolves lie, one black
with greed and anger,

the other white with
bravery, both willing to
bloody their muzzle

but nipping at each
other’s throat at the heart
of every man.  I asked him

which one would win,
and he told me the one
you feed.  But now my

grandfather’s dust is mixed
with Georgia clay, I know
that feeding is only so

easy; give a strip of meat
to one, the other snaps
the scraps, growling, both

growing in sinew and jaw, feasting
on yourself as you lay supine


2. yetzer  ra

My mother’s lupus gnaws
on her face from within,
and I watch her hand shake
as she lifts her tea to her lips,

parched as they are with
skin leathering with years.
My partner’s hands quake
when her heart speeds

up I would rip open
the sky to settle her nerves,
smooth the neurons, unknot
the muscles, the heart.

An ex-lover and I talk,
between grief and grievance,
not hinting that the almost
daughter we treat as ghost

seems real despite stillbirth.  She
could not speak of it as a child
but neither could she not,
instead leaving an offering to Jizo

Buddha for safe passage
between the life that could
have been and might be.  Pain
between prosody and prosaic,

I feed the wolves, needing both
sets of teeth for the task of loving,
as if one could choose between
the love one wants and the love

one has, no matter how the waste
wilts, one needs both jaws sharp.
Between the mouths, I cannot
bring myself to toss the hymnal

into a fire, watch it curl into ash,
then nothing, nor sing the shape notes.



Erosion 4

The smear of white chalk
on a forgotten notebook.
Near the Mexican gold poppies
and Cascalote Trees, where

I go to sulk in the warmth
of noon sun, I watch a witch
moth hide in the shade. The words
tighten in the heat around

the throat. The moth dust
glitters my shirt.  Fifteen years
ago, my aunt died on the highway
in the middle of a sunny day.

The sky hangs like wet crepe
paper.  My aunt’s hand
was palsied from AIDS. Body
turned against her, but a blinded

truck driver did the deed.  Now
it’s time for the Sun to pay as
I draw the moon over and over
on age-creamed paper. The

moth will follow me home,
cling to the events and die
an aristocrat’s death.  I want
for the cool darkness, my ally,

who aids in stuffing away
the sunlight when the quota
is met.  I never saw my cousin
cry, but I avoid funerals.  I’d

rather forget the mannequin 
make-up and forced smiles.
I’d rather draw the stars of
dreams, words garroting

the last of the poems out
of my memory. I will sit
here staring at a soon-to-be
dead moth as the

cooling white hot star 
solidifies akin to hope.



Things in Themselves

“You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.” —Wittgenstein

On the day my lung collapses,
deflates and pops in the slow
air of the red-apple autumn, we
see how much we value life—
the simple caveat contracts
in the shifting sunlight, estrangement
lifting into contagion like
a semi-truck carving the
interstate with brakes giving
way as it rolls into steel
rails and flattens sumac
in the valley. Crushed by
the terrible math of wheels
half-seared into the highway,
despite the doggerel of lonely
atoms, out of sync with
the unending Styrofoam
models from childhood
science classes tossed in the
rubbish heaps. Pebbles
break into an even smaller
kaleidoscope of detritus.
So where is the human in
the trodden things that
I see as I gasp for one
more cool breath.



C. Derick Varn

C Derick Varn is a poet, podcaster, and teacher. He served as assistant editor for Arts and Letters: A Journal of Contemporary Arts, managing editor for the defunct Milkweed Review, founding editor for Former People, and was a reader for Zero Books. He won the Frankeye Davis Mayes/Academy of American Poets Prize in 2003. He is the author of the collections Apocalyptics (Unlikely Books, 2018), and Liberation, and all the other bright etcetera (Mysterioso Books, 2022). He currently lives in Utah but spent most of the last decade outside of the US. He hosts the politics, history, and culture podcast, Varn Vlog. Derick recommends the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Doctors without Borders.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, March 12, 2018 - 22:29