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About the Project
   Ethan Ham
   Benjamin Rosenbaum

Why am I seeing boxes (□□□)?

Wife eye, wolf eye
Benjamin Rosenbaum

War ran wild over the river and through the woods, a war of sparrows through the narrows between fir and fur. Cold cloud lupine breath, crackling dew-dawn, dissipated, then gone. The grandmother, dozing beneath quilts, the clocks ticking, thickening the inpressing air between unblowdownable walls. Plaster wood brick and stone, excluding deer and sparrow and the interstate. And the wolf who does not come.

No crusted crisp snow on gray fur melting to drip on braided rugs. No wolf in the living room, snuffling the doilies hanging from the varnished table-edges. No hungry wolf with gentle green eyes, in the room of rocking chairs and porcelain dolls, of china plates displayed above the fireplace.

No wolf; but only the granddaughter is coming, red-hooded, hooded for riding. Ride and good riddance, you riddle, you Ritalin hoodlum. Interloper, walking absence-of-wolf. The cough and thrum of a subsiding motor in the driveway, the slam of the car door.

In the crashing rushing winter-death woods, the house of the grandmother makes stasis. Lintels, gables, frosted windows, beams, joists, seventeen clocks (with plain pine hands, varnished cedar hands, wrought iron hands, even the black plastic hands of the white battery-powered alarm clock on the round cherrywood table by the guest bed), newspaper and kindling stacked beside the hearth, bifocal eyeglasses on chains, boots in the mudroom (also the man’s boots, empty since the last century, the sensual century, the century of surety, replaced in a senseless injury by wolfless novelty), buttons of all sizes in the sewing kit, cheese-grater, egg-slicer, potato-masher, two drawers of cookware (aluminum and stainless-steel), cast-iron skillet, blue-beaded glass pitchers in windows catching light, central heating and air-conditioning, fifty-three years of tax forms in neat boxes stacked in the basement annex, broom, duster, vacuum cleaner, his .22 in the cabinet down the basement stairs the grandmother can no longer descend. All together, an incantation: the wild wolf wood banished beyond these sentinels.

When the man lived, she was glad of the safe still house of ticking clocks, and glad of the snowclad sharp-toothed ice-cracking beyond. Hand in the man’s warm hand, watching the blizzard pillow white against the bay window, she was not the one digging the snowbound ice-ground for acorns, scraped by evergreen needles, burning with cold. The house fit in the wood, hand in glove, safety in danger.

With the man’s death that half-century of half-safety unravelled. She cannot stitch it up. She longs for the wolf.

The backdoor jingles open, rasps shut, and the grasping granddaughter is unpacking in the kitchen. The refrigerator door’s rubber lips unkiss. The young throats sings: “God bless the child that got his own!”

The old throat is thick with phlegm, the grandmother is smothered under covers in the too-warm bed. She twists her head to see his side, where his dentures aren’t. After death, defeat, the banished wolf will vanish, the mannish granddaughter will unfurnish, purging framed Civil War discharge papers and octagonal crystal candy dishes and lithographs of three-masted clippers, yard-saling them, swapping even the man’s best upholstered lazy-chair for bare complacent Scandinavian factory furniture, assembled with an L-shaped key, and clock-hands for digits. With the guardians gone, what they guard against will also go. The wolf-woods will not survive the grandmother.

Already the granddaughter (she explained yesterday) has installed something called wi-fi. Its ethereal tongue is everywhere, wall-defying, licking electromagnetically—licking the colanders, the clock-innards, the grandmother’s old bones. Licking each thing to tell if it can be bound into the world-wrapping gossip-web. Wi-fi, lie-fi, wildfire, wired fire, excruciating pry-eyed imposition.

When the grandmother’s grandfather built the house, when that stiff beloved white-bearded stranger cleared the wood, when he axed saplings and fat oaks alike, to open the land, he brought also clocks. The clocks cut time, as he cut trees. Their axe-stroke ticks cleared wounds of was out of a pagan underbrush of is, wound the in-house fire-warmed rug-and-doily world tight into those wounds. The wolf snuffling in the snow would find the bones of sparrows, and deeper still, those of Indians—because the silence her grandfather found was not primeval, but made, sudden sharp silence after massacre and plague. Still, it was quiet enough for a little world: a shadowed mushroom underbrush, summerlush, bird-song stick-cracking silent, wading through the summer creek, waiting for the wolf.

But now—this red writhing granddaughter’s now—now it knows the time, the wi-fi, the wife-eye. It knows the radiuses of stars and the genealogies of starlets and why Jews are circumcised; and satellites, saddle-light in the lonesome prairie of the night, peer down at everything to show those who go ogling. Wild time is dead: the wife-eye has chopped everything into packets, or pockets (whichever the granddaughter said). The clocks tick only out of stupidity, as decoration, and there is nowhere for the wolf to walk. The microwave bings. The granddaughter is making something to eat, possibly soup. The grandmother loved her when she was small and surprisable, wildflower-hunting, drowsy in the man’s lap, nightmare-woken and wailing because of the wolf.

Some grandmothers, good ones, would love her now: soup-making dutiful college girl visiting the invalid, visiting the no-longer-valid. But the grandmother is not good. She is wife-wild, wolf-wired.

Clatter of spoon—she’s coming soon—on tray (the copper tray, with the vine detailing). Invincible, she owns this clockless now. She brings her red-wiring-hub to cast wife-eye. There is no hearth in the girl, no saw or lathe or plane, no fireplace poker, no porcelain, no wax, iron, linen, beef, or cream, no Lincoln-Douglas. She is composed of glutamate, aspartame, customer support, reality TV, TetraPaks, databases, gallium arsenide, Splenda, and CGI.

Time skitters, as it lately does. There is no door-open, no steps across the floor. There is only the granddaughter’s smooth face looming like a moon, the spoon a steel blur, unseeably close, sought for the smell of sirloin, garlic, and potatoes.

If the wood were weed-wild, wife-blind, a wolf would burst past the doorjambs and clocks to fang-tackle the smug smooth innocent soup-feeder, crunch vertebrae, tear tattooed flesh, bloodspray the blankets.

The grandmother monkeys out her lips, spoon-seeking. A quavering contact, and the warmth and spice of soup in her throat, a dribble on her chin.

The blurry granddaughter smiles. Her voice, too, is warm. “Grandma—what big eyes you have.”

Les Belles Infidèles is a 2010 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc., (aka Ether-Ore) for its Turbulence web site. It was made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

This work was supported in part by a grant from The City University of New York PSC-CUNY Research Award Program.