Monday, April 18, 2011


The Nameless Numbers: Counting Wolves, Counting Sheep

for Wolf 314F

“Through the centuries, we have projected onto the wolf

the qualities we most despise and fear in ourselves.”

—Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men

They killed her, those bastards, she with no name except Wolf 314F. They killed her with Compound 1080, laced inside the leg meat of a dead deer. Of a sheep. Colorless salt, used as metabolic poison. Convulsions, dizziness, uncontrollable running. Vomiting, hyperextension of the limbs, unbearable pain. She died alone on a quiet Colorado road. Dirt. Ranch hands at the slack. Twenty-four miles north of Rifle. Picture that as you try to count yourself to sleep. Count the unlaced sheep populating your eye, the salted sheep dropped from planes that should make you want to die.

Let’s talk numbers. Let’s say the effectiveness of sodium fluoroacetate as a rodenticide and mammalian predacide was reported in 1942. Let’s talk science. Let’s say the number 1080 refers to the catalog name of the poison. Let’s say sodium fluoroacetate occurs naturally in at least 40 plants in Australia, Brazil, and Africa. That it’s so powerful, a teaspoon could kill 100 people. That it’s classified as a chemical weapon in France. In Spain. Count with me, repeat: 1942, 1080, 40, 100. 314F. Numbers say, Stick to the numbers. Forget her name. Let’s say one, two, buckle my knee. Shoo fly, don’t bother to bite this plague perfectly into us. Kick the canine bitch into a ditch, they say, where wolves can no longer whelp.

Okay, you bastards, let’s talk numbers. She had traveled through four states. Logged more than 1,000 miles from her Montana home. She had howled with five others from the Mill Creek Pack, had left Yellowstone, alone, to find a mate. She had nannied and licked three pups from new-birth blind into joyful uncoordinated tumbling toughs. She had precisely seven and a half whiskers on the muzzle of her snow-mount face.

Gray. 314F was gorgeous gray. Beautiful bark of the lovely dark. Moving in moonlight across snow. Shadow of a secret self. A cloud-covered moon across all that cold. So much is falling from the sky. Such lost sleep. So many pieces we count as we shake ourselves awake. The project entails distributing fluoroacetate-baited meat from the air. Sheep, deer, belly of the calf.

They killed her and she had no name. They killed her and she licked the salt. They killed her and she convulsed into yelps. They killed her with the meat of something dead. Sheep, sheep, they count the sheep. In bed. They are already dead themselves.

Numbers? You want to hold the entire painful equation? In your mouth? They shear the sheep and buy a wool shirt. Exhaust the hens and lay a college fund. Drive the cattle to market to lace the table with steak. Nothing is as simple as good and wrong, right and bad. Uncomplicated as addition adding up to subtraction. But poison, I say, is poison. Never ranch-worthy. Convulsions, always cruel.

Numbers? You want numbers? The numb numb numbing of primordial deep? Cut the sleep mask open into complete darkness. Count the sleep medicines moaning in the sink. Remember in your insomniatic sexual urge that each lamb jumping the gate can drop a wolf permanently dead.

They killed her, and she had no name. (I would have called her Elsa or Shadow.) They killed her, careful, on a Colorado road. They killed her in Rifle without a gun. They killed what was once a young tumbling pup. They killed the shadow of the shadow’s sleep. Alone. Elegant. Gray. They killed the lovely of the lovely dark. Shame on them. Shame. Shame shame shame on them. I give this to them, those bastards—dropping into their sleep this leg meat of words laced with cyanide, with strychnine, with 1080 grains of the cruelest salt of everlasting blame.

~ George Kalamaras

George Kalamaras is the author of many fine books of poetry, including The Scathering Sound (Anchorite Press, 2009) and Gold Carp Jack Fruit Mirrors (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2008). His co-authored book with Alvaro Cardona-Hine, The Recumbent Galaxy, won C & R Press’s Open Competition and appeared the same year as Something Beautiful Is Always Wearing the Trees, a book of George’s poems with paintings by Cardona-Hine. George is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.