Feed Your Wolves


A Poem by C. Derick Varn


  1. yetzer tov


The aged, worn hymnal

near my bed was given

to me by grandfather—


the split leather and pages

yellowed like coffee-stained

teeth to guide me in singing


praise like the Methodist

I never have been:   Once

my grandfather told me


that in every men two

wolves lie, one black

with greed and anger,


the other white with

bravery, both willing to

bloody their muzzle


but nipping at each

other’s throat at the heart

of every man. I asked him


which one would win,

and he told me, the one

you feed. But now my


grandfather’s dust is mixed

with Georgia clay, I know

that feeding is only so


easy, give a strip of meat

to one, the other snaps

the scraps, growling ,both


growing in sinew and jaw, feasting

on yourself as you lay supine.


  1. yetzer ra


My mother’s lupus gnaws

on her face from within,

and I watch her hand shake

as lifts her tea to her lips,


parched as they are with

skin leathering with years.

My partner hands quake

when her heart speeds


up, I would rip open

the sky to settle her nerves,

smooth the neurons, unknot

the muscles, the heart.


An ex-lover and I talk,

Between grief and grievance,

not hinting that the almost

daughter we treat as ghost


seems real despite stillbirth. She

could not speak of it as a child

but neither could she not,

instead leaving an offering to Jizo
Buddha for safe passage

between the life that could

have been and might be. Pain

between prosody and prosaic ,


I feed the wolves, needing both

sets of teeth for the task of loving

as if one could choose between

the love one wants and the love


one has, no matter how the waste

wilts, one needs both jaws sharp.

Between the mouths, I cannot

bring myself to toss the hymnal


into a fire, watch it curl into ash,

then nothing, nor sing the shape notes.



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