Poverty of Stimulus
Today the doe visits the yard with only one fawn
after a summer of bringing twins. People laugh
when I dress the baby in onesies with
witty sayings or hipster pictures: typewriter,
wispy mustache. The baby’s not in
on the joke. I’ve been reading about
a chimpanzee in the 30s who skated
ice shows wearing a clown nose and
the comically ragged clothes that replaced
the burlap sack she’d been shoved into
in the jungle. The baby peers up, unfathomable,
his eyes pools that haven’t even determined
what color they will be. The switches
haven’t been flipped yet in his busy brain
so language just washes over him, takes no hold.
When the chimpanzee pulled the burlap sack
around her shoulders, her captor thought
she resembled his mom. He thought
that was funny. Named her Little Mama.
I’m relieved when not every hand-me-down
will fit. People laughed when the chimp
wobbled on the ice, unaware of her broken foot
crammed inside the boot. We’re so ready
for the baby to talk. My husband throws
a tiny voice—Thank you, Mommy—when I bring
the bottle, baby propped up upon his knee,
drooling on a bib that names him
“little dude.” Experimenters shaped chimpanzees’
mouths to force the language out: cup, papa,
mama. I feel something should be signified
by the deer I number like crows
out in the yard. For a moment, I can’t find
the word that fits: murder or unkindness.
I’ve seen so many bodies like sacks
in the ditch, animals melting into puddles.
Only ribs are left standing, like fingers
that can’t stop counting. I’m sad to name
this cup a cup, eliminating all other
possibilities. The ocean managed
into a drop. If laboratory chimps outlived
their tests they were sent to other labs.
Or became pet, punchline, tricky
prop in vaudeville show. The lucky
sent to a sanctuary, the only fence
a lake they could not swim. The answer
to dearth should not be flood. This O
I am shaping with the baby’s mouth
is the preserver I hope will save him.
Or it is the opening of the boot
I fit onto his foot before he slips
across the distance, wobbling,
and we look on, and laugh, and clap.
last night I dreamed horses
were streaming right into my house
right into my living room
it wasn’t a stampede
but I couldn’t stop them
either I think it’s weird
when adults have pets like hamsters
or lizards or anything that lives
inside a cage a house
within your house and you
don’t touch those animals
much our neighbors
when I was little had a zebra
some Clydesdales miniature ponies
the idea was to charge admission
rent them out for birthday parties
or local TV ads in the pasture
they propped up a sign
“Fantasy Farms” even though
nothing could grow
from that overworked plot
used to be law you could catch
a wild horse and keep it
or poison a spring and claim
the whole herd take those bodies
the dog food factory
or home to feed whatever
you were keeping there
if we could say wild horses
have been here all along
they could be declared
protected but if we admit
we set them loose when
we couldn’t afford to feed them
they are named invasive
and must be rounded up I have no
idea how much or what
their hooves trample down
or turn up my mother and I
would sigh at the bare
and muddy plot whenever
we drove by we had
a dog we loved but didn’t
brush enough whose skin
was infected when he died
when I was a girl I would
perform this act would stick
my hand right through
the neighbor’s barbed wire fence
right past the electrified
strand and offer up fistfuls
of cheatgrass and thistle
I’d picked out of the ditch
I pretended dear zebra dear
brahma bull that they were mine
and that every horse I saw
in any other field was wild
but would let me climb astride
Some of These Tales of Wildness are Hoax
As for the other stories of wild children, they are scarcely worth mentioning. The boy […]who ate grass and hay and bleated was, as the very description shows, a poor dumb idiot.
— “Wild-men and Beast-Children,” E. Burnet Tyler (1863)
Wolf-Girl, Kamala (D. 1929)
Problems with Photograph 1, Scratching at the Door when Restless to Go Out:
subject facing away from the camera
poor quality, grainy
I’m not claiming I was raised by wolves. Even I am part skeptic. But say there were woods close by. Say sometimes I heard howling.
Bear Boy of Lithuania (1661? 1657? 1694?)
Conflicting accounts of what he became, once found:
servant to the king
fife player in military band (though he had difficulty walking upright)
One night I sat for hours on a swing in the park across the street from his house. I couldn’t decide whether to knock on the door or not. I’d convinced myself that nothing would happen. That you can appear on someone’s doorstep late at night and it wouldn’t say the only thing it could really mean.
Bamberger Cattle Boy (late 16th century)
What cow could have raised him? There are few, if any wild cattle in the region.
How much my sister hates conflict:
She can’t even watch sitcoms where the teenage boy has two dates at once, excuses himself from one with some flimsy story to run across the street and kiss the other.
What my sister wants: to stop this nonsense before it begins. Everyone: make sensible choices, say what you mean, go home and get some sleep.
o bovine imagination, predict how this episode ends
All of the Wild Children
maybe there were three Lithuanian boys raised by three Lithuanian bears
maybe I just wanted to talk
maybe Lithuanian bears retract their giant claws, pat our faces with their padded paws
maybe something ferocious always softens when we are found
maybe the same child keeps returning to/from the wilderness
When I pumped the swing into the sky, I was a carefree girl. I thrust forward with abandon.
When I arced back toward the ground, I was old enough to know better. I was getting cold in my thin clothes.
Then I found myself swinging forward again.
Do I need to say anything about who was waiting inside the house? How mean he was, how in the story I imagined, I could make him gentle around the mouth?
It died because it could stand no human food means they would not feed it [him] any other.
what skin would I have left crumpled on the bedroom floor
the rescued children are always looking back longingly to the woods
Wolf-girl, Amala (D. 1921)
Problems with Photograph 2, Mode (all fours) When Running:
that photograph isn’t blurry just because the girl is fast
the faces don’t match up
A loose dog had followed me to the park. I imagined my bare leg in its mouth. Every time I turned, it stopped, looked cowed. But I heard its clinking tags behind me all the way through the trees.
My sister doesn’t even pretend to like dogs. She is a statue when they approach, friendly or not. She keeps her hands inside her pockets. She does not say hello.
Glossed over in old sitcoms:
the daughter in the same tidy dress this week, no evidence of last week’s stain
the sibling who walks upstairs to the bedroom and is written off the show
All of the Wolf-Girls, At Once
that they weren’t even sisters, just two girls left out in the woods
that inventing a wolf just makes an easy story
makes easy money
that after the girls died, the orphanage paid two local girls to pose
that those girls, lucky, could go home afterward and shed their roles
Was I always like this, or did the woods make me? Was that howling or just a stupid moo?
Maybe I was two women. Which one was faked? One sister or another. Girl posing in photograph, girl she is pretending to be.
Pipe player, bear lumbering after.
Either way, there were woods. At least a dark edge of the park I had to cross to end up here. And I was outside, half wanting to be let inside the house.
Then I went home, uncertain of what role I could own.
that the wild boy’s region of the heart was pressed upwards in a result of a bent-forward position in walking
that my own heart was in the right place
that the wild boy’s hardened skin fell off and a new one was beneath
that the sister returns from upstairs still played by the same actor
o continuous loose thread of my thin sweater