The Wolf Isn't The Only One Who Hides In Human Clothes / Natalie Wang

A large white wolf emerging from a forest.
 

CONTENT WARNING: sexual violence.

***

If life was a story,
I would have had a familiar.
A wolf that could sniff out
the blood clinging to the underbed
of a man's words.
A cat with claws it sharpens
to knife points each night.
A raven that would whisper
soft secrets into my ear. Something.
Any creature who would speak
to the animal in myself, and tell me
you are right. That would whisper run,
or fight; scratching with tooth
and beating wings so I would
no longer stay so still and smile
while all the hairs in my body
curled at the press of another’s.

But then if this was a story
I wouldn’t need a familiar.
I could walk with a blade
in my boot unafraid of its wink.
I would have a word
tucked under my tongue
that would crack a man’s bones
until they splintered through flesh.
If this was a story and
I am the writer and therefore
I am God and from the beginning
there were armoured girls
who rode faster than their brothers
and cut down every man
who dared touch them wrong,
and witches who cackled
as their hunters tried to
drown them in duck ponds,
conquering queens who
would leave kingdoms better
than they had found it
and that was good.
If I were God I could write
about cruelty without flinching.

So the story is this.
A woodcutter visits a friend
and tells him about her new home
and he brings out his strongwine
to celebrate, laughs at her for turning red
before she has finished a cup.
She falls asleep on his pallet
because it is late, and they are tired,
and they have shared rooms before.
But some time in the night,
an ogre slips out of the friend’s skin
and begins to touch the woodcutter
with horned hands.

And because this is a story,
and because the woodcutter’s mother
has raised her with tales of the monsters
that can hide in the skins of men,
and because the woodcutter has seen
ogres before, and their mossy teeth
and gnarled skin and rough hands,
and because she has killed ogres
before, and because this is a story,
she does not have to worry
about the man who was once her friend,
and whether or not his sweetheart
will call her a murderer, she does not think
about his toothless mother in the next village,
or any of the hundred things
that will never come to pass whether or not
she stays her hand because she knows
as everyone else does that when
an ogre has taken a man’s skin
the man is over

                            (It may have his memories.
His voice. But all the things
that made him have long been eaten
leaving only a hunger
that scrapes
their bones
and keeps them awake
at night)

               just as she knows
that people would believe her
if she just explained and that is why
she does not need to think
to reach for her knife and stab

and I wish that was how
it all happened. God knows
I have read enough books
and raised enough fists
and I have played God
so many times on page
but it looks like that is where
all this chest thumping
and foul mouth will stay.
Because the truth is
when he started peeling
my clothes from skin
the first thing I said was not No
but I'm on my period
which is not No enough
to shine the truth of his hands.
When I left shaking the first thing
I thought was My fault
for wearing the clothes I did,
My fault for my lonely body
to not push away a wet mouth
and insistent hands in my sleep.
And at the train station when I walk
by the man standing too close to the woman
my first reaction is still to walk past
because for all my enlightenment
all my rage all my all-caps poetry
I still care more for face
than the things we deserve.

***

Natalie Wang writes about cats, ghosts, and women, and maintains that they are all the same thing. She is the runner-up of Fairy Tale Review's 2018 contest, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, The Kindling, Rambutan Literary, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Eunoia Review and the Fairy Tale Review. Her book "The Woman Who Turned Into A Vending Machine" (Math Paper Press) is a collection of poems on womanhood, metamorphosis, and myth.