Erin Elizabeth Smith’s “Like the Wolf / Deployment Day 220” brims with allusions to pop culture, fable, and fairy tale. Immediately, readers see Duran Duran’s synthpop hit of the 80s, “Hungry Like the Wolf,” referenced in the title. Then, as we read the poem, we hear echoes of “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” stories in which a wolf hunts innocent victims— sick grandmother, little piglets, girl walking through the woods. In some versions, the wolf is defeated. In others, he wins—devouring his victims with impunity. Though these tales differ in their details, the core themes persist: hunger, desire, violence.
Smith’s poem opens with the hearty food one imagines those in fables eat—”rice and radish, / the roiling of bones in a slick broth.” There’s no Lean Cuisine or Kit-Kats in this poem; the images are grounded in the details of peasant life. The speaker’s days are filled with meat made from young creatures—”lamb, / and piglet, the sleeping / nose of spring suckling / in new green.” This food satiates the speaker, though some days are still “. . . nothing / but hunger, and the world / becomes a tufted ear, / a sprouted fang / a desire to devour[.]” This craving for the beloved—who has been deployed for over six months—is so all-consuming, the entire world becomes a ravenous beast. The poem’s archetypal images enchant readers while also punching us in the gut with the devastating intensity of the speaker’s longing. At the end of the poem, the speaker admits, “I don’t know how to fill / what teeths inside me,” and we feel their helplessness and hunger with all the weight of ancient myth.