Sunday, July 22, 2007

Not the Last Wolverine

Poet, naturalist and friend John Lane, having finished his most recent book, "Circling Home," about his house and its environs in Spartanburg, S.C., went to Alaska earlier this month. He and Betsy Teter, his wife and partner in many adventures, visited rivers, mountains and glaciers, and recorded some of their experiences on John's Web site: The Kudzu Telegraph.

On Friday the 13th, John wrote me a note: "We went up to Denali and stayed in a back country lodge a few days. We saw amazing animals -- caribou, grizzly, black bear, dhal sheep. I wanted to see a wolverine in a park so I could write a poem called 'My First Wolverine,' but no luck."

Then a couple of days later, at the Totum Inn, Valdez, where the owner has a passion for taxidermy (if not orthography), there the wolverine was: stuffed on top of display case.

Betsy told John that dead animals don't count, and of course she's right about that. But I think this dark setting, a little reminiscent of the Sheep Child's shelf in an Atlanta museum "where dust whirls up in the halls for no reason ... piling deep in a hellish mild corner," is just about perfect. Look at the caribou horns behind the snarling face, and the totem wings on the wall. In its way, this snapshot captures magnificently the spirit of James Dickey's "For the Last Wolverine," which was as much about the survival of the poet-beast as it was of the weasel god:

... How much the timid poem needs

The mindless explosion of your rage,

The glutton's internal fire the elk's
Heart in the belly, sprouting wings,
The pact of the "blind swallowing
Thing," with himself, to eat
The world, and not to be driven off it
Until it is gone, even if it takes

Forever. I take you as you are

And make of you what I will,
Skunk-bear, carcajou, bloodthirsty


Lord, let me die but not die


To view the original poems on line Atlantic Monthly subscribers can go to

The specific links are:
For the Last Wolverine, published in May 1966
The Sheep Child, published in August 1966

These two poems will also be among the first audio publications issued by the Digital Dickey project that John Lane has organized.

-- C.D., Paris, 22 July 2007
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