The Take

The Take: Cassandra Whitaker

Wolf Who Is Not A Wolf Plays Board Games

and does not kill the other does
gathered about the wide lightning forked trunk
laid down by father air. The wolf
looted the games
from town, rooting through throwaways,
thrifting from the free pile
at the library bins, so the games are fair
careworn and mixed up
with replacement pieces, a pinecone,
a river stone, a life of lichen picked up by the bark
and carried by wolf hands
that look less and less like paws every day,
and more and more like hooves. The other does
are kind and do not remark
upon the tuft of fur showing,
the foreleg, which has already lost
its wolfness. “One day I’ll be
gone,” the wolf says to the doe
who is winning. “Yes,” she responds
“you’ve already returned. Here
you are.” Another doe breaks out dandelions
and rainwater collected in an upturned hubcap.
The moon comes out but does not call
to the wolf who is almost a doe. The moon
doesn’t call to anyone but the ocean,
whom it misses like a friend
who can never come out to play. How the moon
would like to gobble up mother ocean,
let father air be mad
to find her. The wolves beyond the forest
hear the moon’s haiku, Come to me I’ll care
for you. For you I’ll be full
Of emptiness, you, the moon says
with a shiver. But the moon moves
further away
every time the wolves approach
close enough to swallow the borrowed happiness
that calls out more, more, more. The wolf
who is almost a doe loses
the game, gets hugs, phone numbers. The party
breaks up. Sometime in the early morning
the pack pushes through; wolves
pause at the gaming sight, the happy scent
hanging in the air. And something else.
Quite like a wolf, but queer. Like hunger
for the moon, except joyous
instead of empty.


Editor’s Statement (written by Jonah Meyer, Mud Season Review Poetry Editor)

Whitaker’s poem is one from a small portfolio of “wolf” poems the writer submitted to us at Mud Season. While others in the pack were taken by other journals, lucky for us, “Wolf Who Is Not A Wolf Plays Board Games” was still available. Even beyond the autobiographical symbolism on transition and identity employed in this composition (which I find fully developed and with magnificent effect), the story itself of the wolf—who throughout becomes less-wolf and more-doe, sitting down to a sweet and picturesque narrative in the woods among new friends—provides rich musicality and a comforting familiarity. Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends in the Hundred Acre Woods, for example, comes to mind. The poet employs entertaining imagery through a narrative which tugs gently at the reader’s head, heart, and basic sense of goodness. Ultimately, much like the wolves-beyond-the-forest encounter later at the site a “happy scent / hanging in the air,” we, too are left with a pleasant and satisfying sensation, hanging in the imagination, lingering well beyond the poem’s end.


Artist’s Statement

“Wolf Who Is Not A Wolf Plays Board Games” was drafted early in 2022. All year, with the exception of a few breather days, I have wrestled with the wolf, so to speak, writing about emptiness, hunger, happiness and change, as well as exploring oppressive cognitive, emotional, historical, and social forces both within and outside of me. The transformation imagery was important to me early, as I was just starting to medically transition. Family and identity were the exigency, wonder at the queerness of the board pieces, the language, the magic of friendship. Later, I employed queered forms, contrapuntal variations, hybrids, etc. so the impulse to reimagine the shape of the poem, that had its genesis in this poem, was fulfilled in other poems, other wolves.

By Cassandra Whitaker

Cassandra Whitaker (they/them) is a trans writer from Virginia whose work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Mississippi Review, Foglifter, Whale Road Review, Conjunctions, Evergreen Review, and other places. They are a member of the National Book Critics Circle.