BY DR. AGONSON
O bless me now in my endeavor true,
and wisdom grant to recall in meter
that tale in faery stories told, to add
a depth to parable. My fingers lend,
upon the keyboard, providential strokes
to better write what has been writ before,
a nursery staple endearing caution.
What of the ravisher can we forewarn
the infant mind without the sundering
of innocence? We holding dear, such state
protect with wolfish masks. To keep the mask,
and yet for minds matured this recounting,
transition in narrative thus mirrored:
As time unveils to the adult the man
behind the beast, so here I now the twain
reform, compiling what is unseen
in natural creation. Thus wolf-man
unleashed holds still the story’s heart, and makes
more true sleepy fable: Riding Red Hood.
Aged mother, who loves grandchild dear,
how weak have you become. When once the wolf,
thy sole companion in this dreary world,
stared hungrily upon the bloom, you knew
its wanton tastes, and sought to frustrate them.
Purest delight thou sacrificed, to save
a daughter young, her little breasts as yet
unformed. You sent the girl away upon
the sunlit road. Only by paths of man
and only in the day, could she traverse
safe from his wicked scheme. So how has he
now like a puppet rendered you, and put
upon himself your skin? You shared your bed,
and cooked the hunt he caught, yet still you knew
what machinations rested in his heart.
So daughter saved; but she offspring returns,
and on the sunny path sending virgin
—who meekly blushing at the charms heaven
matures, as like a prince bestowing gifts
upon his lady fair, in part to hide,
in part to flaunt, dons crimson cloak,
beauty budding, a strange horror and joy,
obscured beneath eye-catching folds—does doom.
And there upon the threshold softly stands
the girl, her womanhood discovering.
As if forewarned, by some foul scent, the wolf,
she stays between shadows and light. Looking
before, and gazing aft, to steel resolve
to either come inside or leave the way
she came, tightly about her shoulders draws
the titular red colored, hooded cape.
You beckon her, at his bidding, into
darkness, into th’secluded forest hut.
And so approaching, by that dim candle
seeing her face contort, you hear her speak:
This twilight hour casts strange shadows Granny.
She says while tentative her steps carry
young child into a seat by your bedside.
Forgive that I should tarry at your door,
but was afraid for that strange sight beheld,
as when I first espied you in the dark,
I thought you were the wolf I saw hiding
in thicket bush upon the lane traversed
this day. Your ears, erstwhile odd: they seemed
to me pointed and tall as like the dog
And so disguised, he speaks your words, joking:
I would my ears were larger still that I
might better hear your voice, to me so dear,
should all the more know melody so sweet,
as what passes your lips. Replied she thus:
O mother’s mother, in this light so grim
your eyes, which once I knew as kind, now seem
so large and cruel. And thus came your response:
Child, my sweet, they are more grown, and so
all bett’r the more, seeing you’ve handsome grown.
You have become becoming, with eyes dark
and deep softly holding secrets they wish,
desire new discovering, to share.
And here he your hand reached, softly searching
under that crimson cloak she hid beneath.
Finding an arm, he gently drew it out,
gazing upon the white unspotted flesh
he clenched between his claws. And you, helpless,
made his marionette, could not you warn,
with some sly change of face, or hidden lie—
as by some memory recounting false
deceive the wolf beneath your skin, and thus
the grandchild, knowing the real story,
who already timid, you might have spooked
and saved—the danger she was in from you?
Now all too late, within his grasp you held
your lovely daughter’s daughter. Thus she spake:
Why Grandmother, how large your hands have grown;
within the folded wrinkles hairs now hide;
the nails, more like an animal’s, harshly
tear at my skin. How could these be your hands?
I’ve known them old, but gentle still they were.
When I a babe, were these the hands that held
my nestled form, and were they as I find
them now: a vice which forces to your bed?
A moment she resists, but trusting you,
though changed, submits to his forceful lewd will.
He pulls the child by her arm that yet,
in parts, displays endearing baby fat,
unto your bed, but wrestles on with her.
Here still unsatisfied—encouragement
taken at the concession made, and so
it is with wolves—he struggles with that arm.
Anon, he drags it closer to the mark,
desiring that she should touch his loins.
Upon your lap he draws her virgin hand
so white, as like unspotted dove preserved
for temple sacrifice, and had it been
herself giving within holy darkness
unto the one her heart adored her like
would be: erstwhile unblemished you have stained.
The moment comes, and innocent, she knows
only hot shame. Her love-d relative,
so her imagination thinks, could not
have meant to guide her hand unto this end,
and thus she takes the fault as hers alone.
Blushing she turns away, and tries to free
herself. His claws about her wrist tightly
contract; he spots the linen in her blood
as she—first in embarrassment lightly,
but now in terror growing—twists and pulls.
He lets not go, but draws her closer still.
Embracing her, he brings her mouth towards his.
So she with dimming hope complains: Mother!
How great your mouth has grown. This kiss, I like
it not! To lightly peck my cheek you’ve oft
leaned down to bless me with your love, yet here,
something has changed. How is it that this kiss
instead of giving seems to take? Within
your jaw curved fangs sprouting freeze cold my blood.
The beast thus mocked: All better more to eat
you with! And here forcing her lips to his
planted love’s forgeries, as like in form
to passion ordinate; thus animals
and man with motions similar make love,
yet man without consent degrades beneath
this dumb mating. So in the rising tide
of his hunger, the ravisher unveils:
Out of your skin he swiftly comes, throwing
away disguise as if you were bursting
wineskin, and he your spilling blood come forth.
His growing form over the frightened girl
now bends her back against the straw mattress.
The muffled screams into his snout arise,
and finding no escape, resolve themselves
into hopeless silence. He tears away
her crimson covering, the cloak she was
named for; and now, as like a giant grown,
into his mouth he scoops her up between
his teeth. So riding on his tongue she falls.
Thereby your granddaughter descends his throat,
and joining you inside the cavernous
werewolf, her forlorn tears she sheds amid
the overwhelming darkness found, knowing
herself destroyed, betrayed by her grandma.
Unto crude art please condescend, Spirit
of truth, that we may see how moves justice,
how even in utter defeat a hope
from thy being eternal yet might spring.
Or am I wrong to think that even in
a pit as dark as Hell You mayst be found,
for there the innocent now makes her bed?
Ravaged, her stains and punishment belong
unto that wolf, who satisfied at his
unconscionable villainy now rests
upon the very bed and crimson cloak—
a shameless grin cov’ring his panting snout.
Falling upon the wild woods, deep Night
relieves her daughter called Twilight; the Sun,
to his slumb’ring abode from heaven treks.
So now in hunter’s garb the moon reveals
her lesser majesty, penultimate
of the celestial lights; her period
in the climax of her nocturnal pow’rs,
the sky illuminates so that one cloud
—which like thin silk displays covered beauty—
encircles her in diamond rainbow’d rings.
Her naked light enwrapped, her glory grows.
The stars all dim, bowing to honor her,
their high assembly’s queen; the light’s no less,
for she shines all the more in her fullness.
Now by her beams the woodsman stalks the deer
drinking the moon in yon reflective pool,
its head lowered gently lapping the pale,
bright disk. Upon the dewy earth careful
he steps, drawing closer while drawing back
his bow. The shaft comes to his eye, and he
along that dart takes aim. At th’arrow’s swoosh,
the deer in panic turns its head too late;
into its side, into its heart, piercing,
the shaft embeds halfway its length. The deer,
with weakening struggle, its hinds explode
in desperate leap. Falt’ring, it landing falls,
crumbling into the shallow pond. Racing
from the obscuring brush, his glinting knife,
as like a star, he brandishes. Into
the neck he quickly cuts, severing life
from body by spilling red blood. A flood,
crimson, over the moon’s image, that orb
en-cloaks, tinting her light in sacrifice.
The hunt fulfilled, venison won, he sheds
well-practiced discipline, the manner of
his craft, and in soliloquy thus spoke:
O deer, in sure movements how like a poem,
when safe, secure, graceful you strut the earth,
yet in your fears transformed, sublimity
abandoned then—and what should I expect
from hunted beasts?—in reckless motions you
helplessly bound and leap as if dancing
to some unheard mad tune, perhaps carried
upon Pan’s flute. I know it not but by
this disordered escape, your god’s rhythm
which marshals all the game I’ve ever shot.
By shaft impaled, a third state I induce,
that deepest sleep where all our courses end,
and here regained, some of your lost beauty
returns. More like yourself in death than fear,
thy dreamless rest remembers some of what
my presence stole, endearing gentleness.
A likeness I have seen in womankind,
who tout virtuous modesty, and yet
when hunted lose these charms as if better
device for catching men: dancing to strange
music my heart hears not. So are some caught.
He looks into the pool where tint of red
bleeding over the evening sky’s image
colors in crimson-murderous that host:
the marshaled stars in regal companies
about their head, the luminary queen.
And there his face reflects as pale as hers,
less bright, but still ready to change its hue
when hungering desire calls his name.
Awakened thus, he finds the world is so
colored; this act, his hunt, changes heaven,
this death may mold the earth, or so it seems.
When to the stars themselves, not muddy ponds,
up turns his gaze, they’re found unfazed,
the lords and dames about that brilliant disk.
The cosmos’ spinning wheel herein yet turns.
So speaks the hunter on: The pond, bloodied,
reflects a different hue than what I see
when gazing up into heaven’s wonders.
They are not changed by any deed below;
no victory of kings, nor apathy
of fools may mold or charm whate’er they are.
But changing forms, the roving moon and these
seasonal dots, pinpricks of light whose shine
reveals when darkness grows about, meeting
in fierce array battalions held at bay
by Sun’s singular light, all these do sway
except one star I know who guidance lends
unto us humble men who deign to hope
on what is seen above. So I will trust
this faithful star that leads through any night,
forgoing talk of retrograde and fate
writ clear within these odd movements esteemed.
I will only respect this one small light.
Yet Artemis, I see her work, her moon;
hunters cannot but hope with signs so plain,
and plain an earthly light, though dim, now shines.
She oft, the dweller of that hut, to tell
of one sweet daughter born in summertime
who in a cloak of red her daily tasks
about the town performs. In truth the dame
I know, who shyly spoke to me one morn:
Woodsman, she knew no other name for me,
wouldst thou inform your slave unto what path
she best prepares her way when through the woods
alone into the night she journey’s home?
Replied anon: Wouldst thou, dear girl,
never my woods to travel so. Therein
no want of starving beasts might seek a taste
of you, and so bloody your crimson cloak;
the stains unseen, for in this grand, wide world
how should such a predation then stand out
against the ceaseless streams of red. She Thus:
Washing, in river stream, or barrel pool,
cleaning would evidence my fall, where’t so.
For this, dyed red by expert hand, my hood
and cape lose not its blush though soaked and dried.
Yet, if the earth possess such craft in hands,
should not the hands above greater which all
this formed? So if this weave with blood is stained,
then when water is run through it, thereof
the streams would taintment show. Cleaning,
it mixes with the dirt, and would run red:
Water and blood pouring would bear witness.
A clever girl, but humble still, her words
evinced a mind at work, and not afraid
to challenge mine, were worked in mild voice.
I thought my guarded heart the battlements
about it leapt, and like a prisoner
hotly pursued by ruthless, barking dogs
there set upon by weary sentinels,
dashed madly to my tongue to offer up
a promise to the dear Red Riding Hood:
Young girl, said I, your grandmother I know,
and from her woodland home back to this town
journeyed at night is not a path to take,
for there’s a beast whose slobb’ring maw would in
a yawn swallow you whole. I’ve seen this wolf
prowling about your grandmother’s abode;
he’s yet to enter in, for lo, each morn
your relative exits the hut unscathed.
I’ve once engaged this starving beast; stinging
arrows pierced not his hide. So stay within
until the sunlight softly gleams upon
the dewy ground, and I will check therein
to see you safely through the night’s terrors.
So now this word returns, and ‘twere conscience
as like a man possessed of more than voice
—what voice he has! for lo, no one escapes,
or so I’m told, no one is deaf though he
whispers—he clasps the hunter’s shoulder tight
within a lawman’s grasp. Swift dictate comes:
Now your promise make good unto the dame.
Contending with conscience, he wins a small
reprieve. Forestalling duty, but awhile,
to the spent deer returns he with his knife,
his bloody knife, brandished. Carving, he cuts,
hollowing out the corpse. Thus vomiting,
in issue comes the internal workings
of a thin doe: stomach and heart and lungs,
all garlanded in intestines’ coils.
The husk he puts upon his back. Its head,
now limp, sways to and fro as he through the
thicket approaches far off light. He knows
the way and little looks about himself.
Under the weight his breath comes in hard pants;
from every pant a wispy cloud ensues.
Too eager to expand, they dissipate
quickly before the next then takes its place.
Though cold, a bead of sweat trickles down his
temple. Some fear he has, remembering
that not so long ago he’d met the wolf.
As like a bear in size it was, and on
two feet would stand as like a man. But wolf,
a giant wolf, and the sequel he feared.
Oh sing an un-regarded song, a verse
remembered naught for savage man’s diverse
and wicked schemes; his heart unkind is bent
toward self and gain, but You who formed the dust,
dirtied in molding clay to reflect Your
image, did not Your word say, “this is good”?
Though we one thousand times or more are cracked,
are shatter’d, returned to dust, are not anew
Your mercies borne at Your sunrise? I pray
to know—to write—of heroes then, to sing
of those inheritors of good and ill
which can repent and become more like You.
So tell me now, thus I beseech, how this
woodsman of mean report, little as like
a king or prince as like is man to You,
how he shall now a braver deed unfold
than high enthroned monarchs may dare to dream.
An evergreen, above the trees, its proud
branches reach high, and yet the trunk, earthly
as like the rest, from buried roots ascends.
And by this nature’s spire, the clearing where
the grandmother’s abode resides. It’s here
the woodsman comes, and leans against this tree.
Still in his forest home, his eyes about
the clearing move, searching for any sight
of that strange wolf he fears. The shadows dance,
his vision’s snatched by breezy leaves, and by
a creaking limb. He holds his hunt, the deer,
upon his back, the weight growing as time
his march leads on into the wayward night.
The meat upon his back, burden increased
since he began this trek, he eases down
onto the forest floor. Squatting to place
it there, the shrubs and ferns about him rise.
So he from sight, in foliage, is hid.
Anon, alerts the hunter’s gentle ear
a creaking hinge turning; and from the door,
the grandmother’s cottage, issues the girl,
red riding hood, but shoulders bare, her cape
absent, she looks not like herself. Naked,
it seems without that crimson cloak or hood.
Into the darkness of the night she struts,
and hidden there the woodsman watches on.
Now coming to a patch of moonbeam light,
she stands as if examining for the
first time herself—moonlight suiting better
this end than gentle candle flame—and holds
her hands aloft, rotating them before
her face. Next arms she lifts, their subtle flesh
near glowing in the light. Turning her eyes
between the two her whiteness she marvels.
Then clasps herself, her sides she feels, and grabs
at her middle. This ritual watching,
the huntsman slowly frowns. She turns back to
the hut, and steps as if to walk that way,
but then with a grimace she shouts and falls.
Upon the ground she writhes, laying within
the bound’ry of the moonlit stage entered.
Upon the ground she twists her flailing limbs,
thrashing the forest floor, and breathless wails.
Then deepening her groans transform, at first
like gargling, but then into a growl,
the sounds so move from pleas to threats. Gnashing,
her snapping teeth rival chirping crickets.
About to leap unto her aid, he’s stopped,
that hunter in the thicket bush, by her
sudden and frightful shout, wicked, wolfish,
a howl filling his youthful limbs with ice.
Then rising from the place where the girl fell
a beast upon its hind legs stands. Its fir,
an ashen tone, in thick layers is spread,
it covering the tight sinews of that
great waxing form, now grown to match in height
twice that of any man. The werewolf sniffs
the air, throwing its snout into the sky.
Then with a sudden twist, the hybrid face
of man and beast—the two not mixing well,
but one over the other pulled as if
ill fitted mask—upon the brush its gaze
then falls, our hero’s hideaway its eyes,
two yellow glowing spheres, descends over.
Again, the werewolf sniffs, and bearing fangs
its snarling maw soon drips long drops of drool.
A forepaw reaches to the ground, and as
well suit’d to stand on two, the monster comes
to four. So crawling towards the hunter’s spot,
that devil sticks its nose in the bramble
cover, its long dread snout bumping the deer’s
gutted carcass. Grabbing the meat in its
curved fangs, it bears away its meal. Dragging
the flesh into the small clearing, it walks
up to the hut, and with its hand-like paw
uplifts the wooden latch, op’ning the door.
The hunter thus, after his beating heart
from fear-maddened rhythm to hard thuds slows,
his whole, from head to toe, feeling the pulse:
What have I seen? My God, what have I seen?
Has this foul wolf been but sorcerous mask
worn by a gentle girl whose light smile
and countenance more hearts than mine have won,
but many have endeared; though she hardly
lets on that with manners beyond reproach
and nature’s smooth waxing she has become
the idol of her peers? But lo, the tale
told of this wolf predates even myself,
how should it then be but this newborn babe?
Interpreting this sinister event
better elucidation do I need.
A touch of wind, seen in a lengthy patch
of unmown grass—the budded stalks bowing—
and heard in its soft, bare footfalls running
between the trees, first brings swift chills along
the hunter’s back, and dancing on from there
unto the hut’s still unlatched door it comes.
The spirit so opens the door, the wolf,
careless, left unsecured. The woodsman thus:
Perhaps a fool, I’ll go in there, and chance
I’ve seen a sign. From death tonight, now once
escaped, I in no small ways dread, but more,
more so than death, a lower state I fear.
Yet still a moment in the grass he stays.
The night sounds off her quiet mysteries,
a ballad of nocturnal noise, music
for dreamers unawake. The restful sounds
the woodsman harkens to, and listless sits.
The moonlight paints in pale shadows all that
surrounds the cursed hut. The greens glow blue
under illumination soft, the grass,
its bowing stalks, as if some coursing stream.
Thus mesmerized, the hunter feels the weight
of sleep assault his weary mind, his back,
grown sore, dully aching, wishes to rest,
to stretch itself, to lie some time supine,
to lay asleep within this field. But lo,
one nighttime bird, in sudden fevered pitch,
shatters the woven spell, and like some drunk,
the man stumbles forward into the glen.
Shaking himself, he thus, in stalking tread,
comes to the cabin’s creaking, open door.
And thus, unto the door, the woodsman comes,
a crouching form balanced upon his toes.
Never so quiet then, he walks as like
a ghost. Then lowly, on the ground, he comes,
and like a cat, he fades into the grass.
The hunter stalks the open door, and moves
unseen by any eye. There lying flat
before the plank-wood step, he slowly lifts
his head. Into the hut he peers. The wolf,
a mass of hair, his blood runs cold to see.
Its snout, bloodied by the deer corpse, with fangs
like yellow spikes, is pointed straight at him.
A freighted panic seizes his body,
and face to face, he dumbly stares into
that predator’s snarl. Yet what relief:
the hunter sighs to see the wolf asleep.
Then, past the dreaded beast into the room
he peers: no light but only shadow there.
The wolf, a subtle move, to stretch in its
repose, a forepaw reaches out, and thus
its claws extend toward the hunter. He backs
away before the dreaded touch might wake,
might bring to life, this sleeping beast, and thus
the beast the hunter’s life would surely end.
In such retreat, he comes to stand again;
the woodsman gazes down upon the wolf.
Its head below him now, the man then gawks
to see the beats’ full size in soft repose.
The little hut was carpeted, the floor
covered in mangy fur, the wolf’s dreadful
brown coat laid flat. Spoke on the hunter thus:
No grandmother in here resides. Nothing
but this demonic thing of faery tales
do I spy in this shadowed habitat.
But lo, beneath the corner cot, the bed
strangely ajar, the crumpled, crimson cloak,
forlorn and torn, forgotten lies. What now?
He stopped his speech, and listened hard. He heard
a distant weeping voice; muffled, he heard
it still. The hunter’s eyes followed his ears.
Upon the bloated wolf’s stomach he gazed.