Of course I believe that The Wolf Man is the best of my horror films – because he is mine.
– Lon Chaney Jr.
You can’t know how it feels –
to have the blood
bark backwards through the heart,
and every nerve snap shut.
That’s how it was, each time
I saw that name, my father’s name, mine
but not mine.
The man himself
played twenty roles a week, could lose
both legs and break his back by close of day.
The Miracle Man, The Hunchback, The Unknown,
the man with a thousand faces, every one
his own. The work of a craftsman.
I watched him grind the lenses,
strap himself in homemade trusses,
bind his limbs, bend over backwards
till his back was broke for good, spine buckled,
his eyes spent. Everyone had a piece:
the studio took his arms, his legs,
his face a thousand times. The talkies
killed the pantomime, but even his voice
was acrobat – till that went too.
Then only his name was left
– and I took that.
The day they repossessed the car, it was –
furniture gone already, business sunk.
Only his name was left. I couldn’t hock it,
so I wore it. It swallowed me in one gulp.
Those years were hungry years, scavenging
bits and scraps, giving away a good name
for third-billings and extras,
stunt work, cowboys, thrillers.
And Christ, the man’s shadow! Sure,
it opened doors, but then each night
it grew long and tall, and came capering
up behind me, like the hard-
faced harbourmaster, waving go back go back.
Go back to what? The country starved.
I grew thin behind that name, impalpable.
I grew cold behind that name, insatiable.
A thickset ghost with a heavy burden,
uncertain, lumbering. A ghoul. That is,
till I found the Wolf.
Makeup took the credit,
but the Wolf was mine,
I found him in me. Only I knew the Wolf,
how I’d nursed him in the stony, coldest
part of myself, chewing on nothings,
mouthfuls of ash and a brain of diamonds,
a bellyful of ice and a brain in ribbons.
A man lost in the mazes of his own mind –
But when I walked, I felt the sprung
piston of haunch and shank, a tread too
firm to be faked. And when I opened my mouth,
I spoke from far off,
a lean and craggy country,
and behind it piped the high
grave falsetto of the Wolf. And oh, oh,
When the Autumn moon is bright…
Those hours were mine. Mine.
A word to follow home.
A word to bite down on.