Happy mother’s day, mothers.
My mother flew kites made of wolves grown in the backyard garden.
In my youth, those foggy days between infancy and childhood, when I first ruffled the fur of a wolf, pulled on its ear. It was the first time I knew what danger meant. Those tiny jaws snapped at me and my mother pulled me away, blood streaming from my hand, caught in the updraft of air where it clotted before my eyes. She kissed the spot where the finger went missing and it sealed. Danger and loss taught me trust and love and I’ve never regretted the loss of a finger for that moment of discovery, when love became more than a word I repeated whenever mother was around. Love became an act.
The wolves grew in the garden. When first their heads sprouted it was all snaps and shrill howls. It’s true what they say about wolves and the moon. Every full moon in the springs of my youth were filled with those high pitched howls, their heads reared back, ears pressed to their skulls, releasing whatever it was inside them into the air to mix with moonlight.
My mother taught me to love the wolves but also to respect them. No longer did I rush to pet them but waited until their forepaws sprouted limply from their stalk. It was then they were calmest, most affectionate. They spent much of their days staring at their new paws, licking the soil away and learning to move.
I named them for a long time though my mother told me not to. She never wanted me to get attached to the season’s crop, but I couldn’t help myself. Those wolf cubs growing in the backyard, their eyes lit up to see me, struggling in their stalk for my touch, to lick my skin. To walk through the garden in summer was to feel the furry love of a new pack. Homegrown and organic, my mother didn’t believe in treating them for insects or pumping hormones into them, but let them grow with nothing but water and sun until their bodies developed enough for meat. There were always rabbits and so the wolves never went wanting.
Where’s daddy, I said for the first time after I had started school, just a year or two after I lost my first finger.
She inhaled long through her nose while watering the wolves, all their little mouths holding themselves open to drink, lapping at the soil and one another’s jaws. Putting down the watering can, wiping the soil that wasn’t there from her hands and pants, she sat at the edge of the wolfgarden and beckoned me to her. I sat on her lap, held in her arms, and we watched the tiny wolf sprouts, so newly bloomed they could only whimper back and forth, wriggling their ears.
Your daddy, she said, was the finest man I ever known. Was him first who sewed wolves into the earth and taught me how to handle them so. He was a mythic sort. You know mythic?
I shook my head but kept my eyes on the wolves.
Mythic’s like a story from long ago. Like cartoons but older. Your daddy was the type of man who did things meant for cartoons. Was him who built this land stone by stone, blade of grass by blade of grass. Was him who dragged gravity to this place, pulled down the sun to shine upon us, wrangled the moon to watch over us. Partly that’s why things float so.
To remind me she grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it in the air. I watched it turn from a scattered cloud to a cyclone whirling upward and then it compressed into a stone, began falling, and burst to life as a dragonfly, its fiery wings blazing off and away.
Even that’s your daddy’s doing. World we used to live in was too boring for him. There was so much life to be had that only lived in dreams so he burrowed on into his own head and pulled all this place out. Your daddy was a Dreamer and all of us believed hard enough in his dream to make all this real. You’ll learn when you’re grown and a daddy yourself what it means to live life elsewhere.
Where’s daddy now?
She exhaled against my neck, cold. She said, Your daddy dreamed so hard I don’t think he knew rightly what it was he was doing. He sewed these wolves into the earth but never treated them with the just amount of respect. Like you lost your finger, so your daddy lost his life to these wolves. It’s not just wolves here in this garden, but the bones and memories of your daddy. It’s him who watches you through their eyes and sings to you with their voices. Every kiss you get from them is a kiss from him.
But they bit me.
That’s right. They’re still wolves and now your daddy’s one of them. He’s teaching you not to be like him in all ways. And now I bet you know better, huh? Never gonna mess with them wiley pups before they’re alive long enough to understand their place as a plant.
Much of what she told me then didn’t make sense till a few years ago when I went to college across the Gap for a semester. It was a jarring experience, to say the least. One I’d rather not think about.
But what I remember most about my mother was the way she took the skin of the fully grown wolves and made them into kites. I had wolf sheets, wolf shirts, wolf coats, wolf everything, but it was the kites that brought me the most joy. They flew so beautifully in the air and if you knew how to fly them just right, you could get them howling. A thousand wolves howling at the winter moon every year as they drifted in air.
My mother was no saint and there were times when I wished that my mother could’ve been any other woman besides the lady of the wolves, but how I remember her best are all those wolfkites held by us kids beneath that cold winter moon on the shortest day of the year.