City of Wolf­men

The Iowa Review - - FRONT PAGE - Ben­nett sims

Di­rec­tions The city of wolf­men is the city of wolf­men only one night a month. For twenty-nine days of the month, it can­not be found on any map. Pass­ing through a town of hir­sute men, their fore­arms strong and calves thick, one may ask them where he could find the city of wolf­men: they will not know what he is talk­ing about. If a gas sta­tion at­ten­dant spreads a county map across the hood of the man’s car and points at the high­way there, his fin­ger will fall on empti­ness. The city of wolf­men is il­lus­trated in in­vis­i­ble ink. The ink is vis­i­ble only in full moon­light. The dot of it rises out of the map’s pa­per one night ev­ery month, then with­draws, like a fever blis­ter.


There are no mu­se­ums in the city of wolf­men be­cause no one re­mem­bers the city of wolf­men the fol­low­ing morn­ing. Its cit­i­zens wake up naked in zoos and in parks, in beds of for­est leaves and of jacaranda petals, in each other’s front lawns and in the mid­dles of streets, and the city is gov­erned for one day by stu­pe­fac­tion. —Do you re­mem­ber last night? they ask each other, and none ever do. The tat­tered clothes and shed hair, un­ac­counted for, are de­stroyed, and cold creams are rubbed into the sore­ness of thighs. There is noth­ing left over for a mu­seum, no ar­ti­facts and no his­tory, be­cause the city lacks a mem­ory of it­self. It is a zone of am­ne­sia.


All cit­i­zens lope in the city of wolf­men. If a man is on a bi­cy­cle when he trans­forms, he dis­cards it, and if a man is within his au­to­mo­bile, he aban­dons it. The only move­ment is the move­ment of paw over earth. For this rea­son the city ap­pears con­gested with traf­fic jams, though these are only streets of empty ve­hi­cles. In nav­i­gat­ing the main roads, packs of wolf­men will run over car and bus roofs as over a frozen river. Some­times a wolf­man, still in his au­to­mo­bile, will find it dif­fi­cult to un­buckle him­self, and on hear­ing the thud of his broth­ers over­head, he will whim­per help­lessly and claw at his seat belt, un­able to join them: this is the limit of sad­ness in the city of wolf­men.


In the city of wolf­men all speech re­quires re­sponse. Howl from field is an­swered by howl from for­est, which is an­swered by howl from lake bed, such that howl nec­es­sar­ily begets howl and di­a­logues are like great stretches of echoes. The law of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is that to hear is to speak, and to speak is to pass the bur­den of speak­ing to who­ever has heard you, as in a room of men who have been given the word “hello.” Some nights it even seems as though there are not mul­ti­ple howls but only one howl, which passes from throat to throat, leav­ing one and bur­row­ing in another, like a lo­cust.


The morn­ing af­ter, a man will wake up with blood and its iron taste in his mouth. He will gar­gle with wa­ter un­til it is gone. When he goes to pick up the news­pa­per, he will find a neigh­bor­hood dog, per­haps a golden re­triever, laid out and gut­ted in his front yard. There will be noth­ing peace­ful about the death: the dog’s whiskers will not move in the morn­ing breeze, nei­ther will its hair, and this will un­set­tle the man; the only part of its body that will look asleep will be its feet, paws curled in at the an­kle, ex­cept for one foot, crushed and bloody, which won’t look asleep at all. He and the dog’s owner will bury it. When the man be­comes hun­gry later that day, he will be re­minded of the dog—of the way that it leaped and yapped at streams of gar­den hose wa­ter—with­out know­ing why.


What are build­ings for in the city of wolf­men? It is an everted city. When out­doors—joy of un­re­strained move­ment and howl­ing—the wolf­men can­not con­ceive of an in­side: their houses seem to them like boxes of si­lence, as though four walls were erected around noth­ing, around nowhere, to con­tain it. The sight of their own houses makes them restless. When the wolf­men see the city from its out­skirts, glow­ing through dis­tance and dark like ghost­li­ness, noth­ing seems more im­prob­a­ble to them than that they should ever re­turn to it. But then dawn tires and weak­ens them, and they gather on hill­tops, pant­ing, to ad­mire the city’s glis­ten­ing build­ings. Their same neigh­bor­hoods, built around noth­ing, around nowhere, seem finer now than forests or fields, and they trot home in ex­hausted packs. Un­der a sky pale as milk, thou­sands of wolf­men crouch out­side front doors, whim­per­ing to be let in.


Few liv­ing wolf­men re­mem­ber the vil­lage mobs that once hunted them. Only that the gun­pow­der of the ri­fle that fires the sil­ver bul­let is like the grains of night­mare, and the bar­rel smoke like a curl of night­mare, and the echo­ing report like the voice of night­mare, ter­ri­fy­ing the very air.


When a cit­i­zen dies in the city of wolf­men, his death bi­fur­cates into two funer­als. If a pack of wolf­men, prowl­ing, finds a wolf’s corpse prone in the for­est one night, they will cir­cle it twice be­fore dis­pers­ing. And if a group of men, jog­ging the next morn­ing, finds that same body—a man’s now, nude and pale among the for­est leaves—they will pro­ceed to bury it. Even as a corpse the wolf meta­mor­phoses: at dawn it re­verts back to the man. Day­light de­pilates the body, shrinks its teeth. Coaxes the claws back into the hand. By the time the men find it, it is a man again and must be mourned anew. In this way the same death comes to in­habit two bod­ies. It moves, like a her­mit crab, soft and white be­tween its shells.

Love and Pro­cre­ation

There are no women in the city of wolf­men. The pop­u­la­tion in­creases only in re­la­tion to the num­ber of tourists who, pass­ing through the city of wolf­men, suf­fer non­fa­tal at­tacks and stay on as cit­i­zens. Some­times the men take lovers among them­selves, though this is nei­ther here nor there. Some­times the wolves take lovers among them­selves, meet­ing ev­ery full moon, though who can say whether a man trans­forms into the same wolf ev­ery month: per­haps the wolf is born at the first light of the moon, and grows old in as­cen­dance with the moon, and dies at the moon’s dis­so­lu­tion; per­haps a man has an in­ex­haustible num­ber of wolves within him­self and of­fers each month a new wolf; per­haps the love be­tween two wolves is like the love of a man who falls in love in a dream, and if the wolves of the same two men should fall in love again the next month, then one might say that, as a co­in­ci­dence, this is only like the dream that re­curs, not that the two wolves re­mem­ber one another, or the sweet smell of the other’s urine, or the beau­ti­ful feel­ing of jaws against the nape of the neck.


The city of wolf­men haunts it­self, though it is not oth­er­wise con­ven­tion­ally haunted. If a wolf­man breaks into his own house one night and sees a pho­to­graph of his hu­man shape on the man­tel—smil­ing at a friend’s

wed­ding, wear­ing a tuxedo and no beard—he will growl at it, as at an in­truder. Con­versely, if a man de­tects the odor of wet fur lin­ger­ing in his hall­ways, he will shiver, as at the pres­ence of dead par­ents in dreams. In this way there are no haunted houses in the city of wolf­men, yet ev­ery house is haunted by some­thing that the house re­mem­bers and the ten­ant for­gets.

Astrol­ogy and Re­li­gion

Be­cause the moon is the only in­flu­ence and the only thing, the city of wolf­men con­sid­ers the ocean its brother and con­sid­ers it­self an ocean of wolf. The wolf­men think of their city as a mag­net that at­tracts moon: if a city of wolf­men were erected on the moon, the moon would close in on it, snap­ping shut like a rat­trap. Or else they think of the moon as a mag­net that at­tracts the city of wolf­men: if the moon were placed closer to Earth, the city, its build­ings and streets, would de­tach and float air­ily to­ward it. Beau­ti­ful moon—howl­ing is a form of prayer; di­lated pupils are a form of prayer. Dur­ing eclipses, the men are like dreams of them­selves, and noth­ing any­one says makes sense.

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