A Review of Mary McMyne’s Wolf Skin
By Jennifer Dane Clements
We remember best that which haunts us. The memories or fears that we carry, percolate in our bloodstreams. As children, the unknown and unknowable facets of the world succumb to dreamscapes of mythical proportions, allowing us to be haunted by things ordinary and alive: the toothy jags of a broken window, an attic portrait with a traveling gaze, the gnarled witch and her warty moral to the story. As children, we await their instruction, understanding that which haunts us to have a strange and beguiling power.
It is with this in mind that Mary McMyne frames Wolf Skin, a chapbook of poems from the voice of a woman whose own childhood was steeped in the twists and vines of the old German fairy tales. Now, grown, the echoes of the tales return to her as commentary to her daily life and reminders from long ago.
The most harrowing of these echoes advises the woman to “Be not girl . . . but wolf.” Those who do not become wolves, speaks the memory of her mother, are little more than dolls, “dumb as porcelain.” As though one’s evolution through personhood is a journey built on unpleasant binaries: vicious or inert, brave or in need of rescue.
In the titular poem, we come to understand the huntsman from “Little Red Riding Hood” embellished his tale of heroism from something more closely approximating a sad act of butchery, his liberated victims still reeling from shock and too disoriented to mutter more than a few words. There were no great thanks or praise, no ceremonies, and the trophy he claimed to have taken from his heroic deed. The “wolf skin” of the poem and of the collection’s title speaks to the assumed persona, the larger-than-life fiction we cloak ourselves in to satisfy some notion of bravery, of gender, of morality.
Childhoods are fascinated with dark spaces and mystery, and lean with curiosity towards danger. In McMyne’s retelling of these familiar tales, we’re reminded of the darker themes lurking behind characters we’ve come to associate with youthful innocence: death, isolation, pain. And so we encounter the wolf lurking at the doorstep where a girl laps at her popsicle, the prince who’s been cursed to live as a hedgehog, the pregnant and yearning princess captive in her tower.
Indeed these reminders often deal in fierceness–how it can be assumed or appropriated, how growth and heroism seem intertwined. And, perhaps most importantly, how these values and lessons transcend and permeate into our time, today, where still we find what’s necessary at odds with what makes for a compelling hero’s tale.
The collection begins and ends with the image of a moth, from the mother’s collection, perfect and asphyxiated, pinned to a corkboard. As an expression of both the fairy tales she illustrates and of the book itself, this image carries acute resonance: delicate, inquisitive, and a tinge darker than people might expect.
Mary McMyne, Wolf Skin. Dancing Girl Press, 2014: $7.00
Jennifer Clements is a writer of all sorts based in Washington, D.C. Her work has been featured in publications including Barrelhouse, Hippocampus, WordRiot, Psychopomp, and on stages in DC and New York. She is a prose editor of ink&coda and writes regularly for Luna Luna Magazine and DC Theatre Scene. She holds an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. Visit her online at www.jennifer-dane-clements.com.