“We are the girls. Everything in the world points to us”
Farrah Field’s book Wolf and Pilot just out from Four Way is a freaky narrative-ish collection telling of many things, but particularly of four young sisters running away from home. They don’t go far, interacting with the mother they have run from, entering homes and spaces otherwise closed (strange bedrooms, underground). The beauty here is in the uncertainty- the girls are gone, home, perhaps mere specters. It is their absolute agency and mobility that troubles any certainty. This ultimately adds to the power of book, keeping the reader searching for the next hard kernel of information, which she gets often enough to follow Field’s compelling narrative. Wolf and Pilot has seven players: there is the detective (Henry), the teacher, the mother/witch (Helen), and the four runaway daughters (Elsianne, Matilda, Emaline and Aubrie). Periodically there are stray characters who try to make their way into the story, but can’t quite puncture it. This is demonstrated in “Bedtime Stories,” when a girl (Abigail) rings the doorbell and Helen answers it:
“A clitoris could be pinned down
like a dissected frog the witch said.
Abigail said what are you talking about and went away the only
friend we ever had.”
Beyond the sisters’ isolation, this bit illustrates Field’s ability to write with a hint of child-language, and that the girls enjoy often being a single “we,” pointing to their intimacy. Field tinges their speech with lyricism:”I spilled sticky on the tablecloth”; “The weight of the armor equaled three of us”; “A pair of claws works as good as hands.” In the poem “Emaline Develops An Attachment,” a poem in which Emaline speaks of her growing crush on the detective, she says, “I wrapped//grass around my fingers and married you.” This immediately reminded me of my own girlhood, when I allowed myself (more) emotional indulges and- more importantly- the space to verbalize them and pursue little acts to show my faith in these emotions. In this way the girls’ gestures are simultaneously alien and familiar, for “Once upon a time all adults used to be children.” Yet they exhibit a capacity that most never did- these sisters are innovators and engineers, able to build robots and mend sheds otherwise abandoned by adults; they are survivors who “eat like raccoons.”
Aside from the girls, the most captivating figure is their witch-mother, Helen. Our initial introduction to her is in the first poem as the inconsolable “cross-armed mother, who made the detective nervous.” In the second poem we get the girls’ first portrayal of her, in which Helen’s statements and actions seem insignificant enough, but suggest threat- revealing her to be (potentially) something else altogether. The youngest tells us,
“She ran a long nail
up my spine. You should keep a back like that
covered, she said”
I’d never guess what she was going to do with the turtle
wiggling in her hands…
that was the only time I ate dinner with her.”
The descriptions are no less haunting as the book progresses: “Our mother can pull her face off at the nostril”; “She threw one of her feet at us and never lost her balance.” Helen is generally a source of peculiar violence. After the teacher and the detective decide to take the girls in, the teacher suffers from a mystery injury in which “Exploding Velcro is all she hears in one ear” and bleeds. Beyond menacing, Helen is a sexual creature who uses her sexuality for purposes other than personal pleasure. There is a harrowing scene we only access askance in “Maybe You Have More Than One Private Parts”:
“You tied our hands together
and straightened a hanger…It lasted a long time,
with you and the others in the middle,
spilling your drinks in each other.”
Though she does participate, the “you” is arguably not Helen, as she is called by name in the poem. So we have another uncertainty here- the “you” is another threat, or perhaps Helen’s ability to exist in multiplicity. But Helen does fuck the Lieutenant so he’ll fire the detective- “She multiplied herself, licked // both of his waxy ears, and straddled both of his legs.” She fucks the detective after he and the teacher start housing the girls, then she rips a brick from the wall and breaks his kneecap, declaring she will take one of the girls back (which she does, but in a more violent way than you expect).
Throughout Wolf and Pilot, Field maintains a level of mystery and appeal that is no easy thing, and does so successfully in large part due to her compelling characters. Ultimately Helen is a creator of chaos, in the very least by producing these four girls who”weren’t born like other people”. They meddle in small ways, acting predominantly as witnesses, marking the actions of those around them. The teacher and detective are those attempting to produce order and sense from the maelstrom of the witch and her daughters. And of course we are there too, rapt, thinking about how often we’re going to pull this book off the shelf.
Diana Arterian was born and raised in Arizona. She currently resides in Los Angeles where she is pursing her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. She is the Managing Editor of Gold Line Press and the creator of Gold Line’s imprint, Ricochet- both of which publish chapbooks. Her own chapbook, Death Centos, is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse, and her poetry has appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, River Styx, and Two Serious Ladies, among others.