Skinwalker by Lauren Scharhag


It’s not like in the werewolf movies
where I wake up naked in the forest,
not knowing how I got there or why
I have the taste of blood in my mouth.

It’s not like the stories where curses
make beasts of men. No, it’s more akin
to those Eurasian primordials of whose tree
I am but another branch, where turning men

into wolves was the rite of hunters and
warriors. No moon governs me, and I know
exactly what I am and where I’ve been. It’s in
my very name, by means of it, it goes on all fours.

Some say it started when the Spaniards came,
and if you don’t know the story of those years,
I probably don’t have to tell you the story
of those years, the age of ruthlessness and

conquerors. Sometimes, I think it must be because
for so long, we were nomads, and you don’t just
shrug off three millennia of wandering, trekking
across ice bridges and down the rugged coasts,

but only the Creator knows for sure, they
who conjured light from the east, and Earth
from a single yellow grain. Sometimes, I think
I was born to this, that I only unleashed what

was already there, my nature mutable as the
golden tortoise beetle, the snowshoe rabbit,
or certain tree frogs. Nothing in my cosmology
says I must forgive. There is only balance

and imbalance, and imbalance must be corrected.
The sort of trauma that washes down through
the generations, like litter in the stream of our DNA,
and it’s not as if the atrocities ever stop. I am

the endless Night Chant, waiting for the world to heal,
the tireless ceremonial dancer, the ultimate hand trembler,
for surely we must remove the source of the malady.
I take the darkness into myself, and when our enemies

tell us we are less than they, I am ready
to fling it back at them. I am ready to don
the forbidden animal skins, to sow terror and
harvest a crop of bones. You could see why

I would trade the Pollen Way for blood, why
I would call upon the powers of wing and
fang and claw, why I would become pitiless
as the hawk’s unblinking gaze. I pray you

never know the pain that drives someone
to become this, that you never have to pay
the price to become this, the agony of
transformation: my fingers, once so skilled

at weaving, hardening into talons, canines
overtaking my omnivorous mouth, forsaking
forever the taste of corn and beans, my feet
into paws, and then the aftermath of becoming,

in which I am no one, neither living nor dead,
perpetually half human, half creature, all monster,
the stench of mass graves and privation. Once you
start down this path, there can be no turning back.

And yes, I can be dog, coyote, wolf, bear, cougar,
owl and crow, but I would rather be the deadly
bacteria destroying you from within, the brain-eating
amoeba lurking in the water, the compulsion

that seizes people to pet a wild thing that could
maul or trample them. The medicine men try
to pray us away. Those who know of us do not
speak of us, for fear we will hear. Admittedly,

we are not hard to distract. There’s always some new
imbalance to chase down. Dip your bullets in ashes,
and if you know the Skinwalker’s human name,
then speak it, and they will be destroyed. If you know

my human name, then speak it, and I will take you
with me. Unlike you, I don’t fear the world’s end.
I know more are waiting if we could but rise
to meet them.

written by ©Lauren Scharhag

Lauren Scharhag (she/her) is an award-winning author of fiction and poetry, and a senior editor at Gleam. Her latest poetry collection, Midnight Glossolalia (with Scott Ferry and Lillian Necakov), is now available from Meat for Tea Press. She lives in Kansas City, MO.

Links to purchase the book:

Meat for Tea Press

Midnight Glossolalia Paperback – February 11, 2023 by Lauren Scharhag (Author), Lillian Necakov (Author), Scott Ferry (Author)

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