Poem of the Week | February 14, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Tree Wolf” by Katie Hartsock!

Katie Hartsock is the author of Bed of Impatiens (Able Muse, 2016). Her poems have recently appeared in Kenyon Review, Ecotone, The Threepenny Review, POETRY, 32 Poems, THRUSH, The New Criterion, Greensboro Review, Image, Birmingham Poetry Review, Nimrod, and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor of English at Oakland University and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband and sons. Her second book of poems, Wolf Trees, is forthcoming from Able Muse Press in late 2022.


Tree Wolf

I think there’s something wrong with me. I’m pregnant, it’s summer, and
summer bothers me. This bothers me. The zoo’s new Wolf Wilderness sits on
two acres. The wolves must hear, not far to the south, the depressed highway
pouring itself out in eight lanes. It is bothered, too. I saw the wolf near closing
time. She was panting in the stupid humid afternoon, she had climbed into
the lowest branches of a pine tree, which she was using to scratch her stomach.
She was looking around, finding her acreage insufficient. I wanted to bring her
a bowl of ice water like I would a dog. Watch her eyebrows raise up, surprised
at the cold. Not that she would. Domesticated dogs evolved this capacity to make
us love them more. That she can’t do this does not bother the wolf. Fuck raising
my eyebrows for love. I’ve been smothered in AC this summer, I can’t get
comfortable without it, and when I’m comfortable I’m bothered. The comfort
is killing us. The sound of a staple gun kept puncturing the air, rhythmically
working on an exhibit for animals the wolf will never see. She’ll hear them,
she’ll smell them, she’ll taste their smell and sound. Everyone got used to it,
forgot it was even a noise. But not the wolf.


Author’s Note

Most wolves in my forthcoming collection Wolf Trees are figurative. The origin of the term “wolf tree” is unclear, and its meaning varies across the US, from a single tree alone in a field to an older pasture tree surrounded by younger forest. Wherever they stand, wolf trees always stand out, emblematic of a former ecology. Writing about them let me begin to write about my Type 1 diabetes, which can make me feel like a wolf tree—like a remnant—given that the disease has long been, until just a century ago, fatal. Though not mentioned here, diabetes permeates the wolf tree poems. “Tree Wolf” inverts the phrase as it describes a real wolf, albeit at a zoo. Diabetic pregnancies are incredibly difficult. Not only do the hormones and insulin resistance, which mutually increase as the pregnancy progresses, make it harder to keep blood sugars in a healthy range, but extended high blood sugar can harm the child, whose body absorbs excess sugars through shared blood. Stress regarding the latter only makes the former worse. Watching the wolf stand in branches gave me the gift of pause, if not comfort.