Kathryn Stripling Byer


Hunted to death
for a five-dollar bounty,
the wolf has been gone
from these mountains

a hundred years,
save in the blood
of some yellow-eyed stray
with a fierce opposition

to choke-chain
and all human boundaries.
The Cherokee knew him
as Wa’ya, the watchdog

of huntsman Kana’ti.
No mortal dared track
him for fear
of the wolf-spirit’s vengeance.

When Wa’ya howled
over the snow-crusted passes,
the fire in the sacred lodge
trembled. The young braves

grew restless when Wa’ya’s pack
milled at the border
of broomsedge surrounding
the cornfield of Oconaluftee.

When wolves roam the stories
we tell about taming these mountains
where, strangled by kudzu, the old dens
still wait in the darkness,

we listen for echoes
of what used to challenge the drunken
brag passed around hunters’ fires.
Shape-notes of night itself.

on its breath,
after which followed nothing
but silence.