"Siren Test" by Robyn Schiff

COMPANY EDITIONS is an independent publisher of poetry and visual art. The journal, Company, was founded in 2013 and is published three or four times per year. We will also be publishing chapbooks beginning in late 2016. Company Editions is based in Athens, GA, Iowa City, IA, and Cambridge, MA. You can contact the editors by emailing editors@companyeditions.com.





Crisis in absence, practice howl tuning

its force, that old story

dragging a moralizing

wolf out of the matrix. Called

to the porch to picture the mouth. Every first

Wednesday of the month, if it’s clear.

Why would you stop yourself? Who are you talking to?

Get back in the house. Where are you?

Pack counts off. Where


are you? Who are you with? Pitch modulates

mouth. It alters you to

make a sound like this; your face

takes an upstream mien like the

kype of an experienced fish whose muzzle

transforms into a monkey wrench.

How wide will he open his? How I admire an

animal who hunts with its face.



wolves plunging their grins in the salmon falls;

this is no sport and I

am no man. When a boy cries

wolf a wolf cries boy. The woods

behind my house only go back a few feet

and are lit by a commuter

train. Today is overcast but the siren churned

its test, nevertheless. It called

me to the porch


with a question. Do not ask if this is

practice, just get in the

basement and load some laundry,

then pack up the old wrapping

paper into the Rubbermaid containers

I bought to organize the gift

giving of the Magi. I give and give but won’t

give up my position. Get back

in the house, I


said to myself, and made myself useful.

Sometimes I am thankless

and sometimes I am so full

of aimless gratitude it

is a curse some call love, some rumination,

when I just sit here all day all

night counting my unaccountables. I recall

my mother counting my fingers

once: Since you have


the same number on each, let's just count one

hand twice. Understand? Yes.

We proceeded to count off

aloud together each time

she touched the tip of one of my fingers with

her own index. I was six and 

knew how many of every thing I had; I had

a feeling I was born with that

I descended


from a line of counting house witnesses

and already knew how

to keep a secret and a

list, yet my little hand shook

in my mother’s hand as much as it had when 

she once used her fingernails to

extract ten splinters from my palm and I withdrew

it just as fast when we came up

short upon my


thumb at only number nine as I would

many years hence from the

hired grip of a boardwalk 

fortune teller when she looked

at my palm and said, A life well lived is worth

even more than longevity.

What will be—the whole damned boardwalk gone; the wood, free—

will be. I dropped my last arcade

quarter between


those slats and accidentally turned on

the starving sea. I had

had enough anyway, my

mother had said. And so I 

had. Saying “had had” like that reminds me to

recount to you how it was I

was led to miscount my fingers: You’ll remember

my mother counting two tribes of

Indians on


one of my hands so won’t be surprised to

learn she tricked me by by-

passing the pinky on the

second pass. As a child I

invented an internal system I called

to with my invoice whereby I

organized my time-sensitive material

according to the future date

on which action


is needed I much later learned is called

by clerks a “tickler file.”

Underhanded phantom itch,

mine reckons ways of this world

with the next via a system of pulleys

threaded as the strategy to

sacrifice by proxy the sons of others in-

to a labyrinth zeros in-



in on one's own. Don’t ask a mirror whose

head is on the coins that

feed this contraption, let’s call

it “war,” if you don’t want to

know that the ashtray of every Toyota

in Jersey was full of metal

slugs we used instead of quarters on the Parkway,

but one man, let's call him “Daddy,”

had just one slug


tied to a thread. Don’t move a finger if

you’re playing dead. Present

and unaccounted for, my

purloined letter, steal yourself,

son, I’m teaching you how to make yourself in-

visible. “I only cry in-

side,” he said clearing the threshold into cold dis-

regard—the wind—which just standing

in was his first


career. Finite accounting, please lead me

to your zero that I

may begin my encounter.

Today I’m thinking of a

number. The sensitive boy who sensed the wolf

approaching. It was coming, but

it was not the truth yet. Do not hire a prophet

to do nearsighted work. It’s not

the boy’s fault you’re


not ready for him. The moral is: trust,

and trust’s not trust until

its test. I counted on the

crying boy who swore he heard

the wash of piss against these trees we call ours.

I possess such unbearable

affection for my glistening property I

fear it will be unborne. The wolf

raises its leg


and shakes its mark over everything I

have. Now what? Cycle a

second load of wet laundry

through the infernal compact

Bosch clothes dryer, and fold, fold, fold; it’s hotter

than a Whirlpool; be careful with

those snaps! What a long day already. Waiting for

the All Clear that shares its silence

with Continue


to Take Cover to distinguish itself

among the intervals

is rather like being kept

up all night on the Murphy

bed of friends straining my ears to discern a

difference between Tick and Tock

in an old test invented to determine the

sensitivity of angels,

and having it


dawn on me that though the censorious

princess kept awake by 

that depressing leftover

pea passed an ancient test of

rank, she failed by far even more sensitive

character evaluation

by complaining to her host. She won’t be asked back.

Earth is cruel; accommodations

scarce. Everything


keeps changing hands. If you put your host’s clock

in the guest room drawer, take

it out before you go! Say

nothing but “Thank you!” I had

said “I had had enough” but I had not had.

Put another way: tic tic. Don’t

treat fire drills like holy fire; treat holy fire the

way you would treat your own mother.



over a great distance you will never

overcome. Fear nothing,

I whispered to my child, but

to tell the truth: the moral

is. Here’s a confession: the child you hired to

quietly confront the coming

wolf was born into my claim. I tried to hide him,

but all he wants is to be held



I named him Wolf so he could cry himself

to sleep. It goes without

saying I want him to out-

live you, whoever you are.

If poems aren’t for saying what goes without

saying, I don't know what they’re for.

I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow.

In crisis I stood in the cold



Museum of Natural History

and was briefly consoled

by the unnatural arts

of concealment by briefly

illuminating two hunting gray wolves by

pressing the white doorbell outside

their dark vitrine. “Who’s there?” the wolves said. A dreadful,

fast vision flashed a terrified



white-tailed deer against a blind spot on my

side of the glass. Its last

footfalls, cast in infamy

in the stride of extended

suspension, melt both the artificial snow

and my sad heart. The wolves said, “Whose

side are you on?” I don’t know. An iron support

pole enters the point at which the

one leg touching


down feels the snow before being gathered

up again below the

running wolf. Conserve the earth

for the living dead. Let it

go, hums the blue light of the soul in flight. In

proper orientation with

Polaris, the Big Fucking Dipper sifts for some

thing of value.


Robyn Schiff is the author of the poetry collections A Woman of Property (Penguin, 2016), Revolver (Kuhl House Poets, 2008), a finalist for the PEN Award, Worth (Kuhl House Poets, 2002), and the chapbook Novel Influenza (The Catenary Press, 2012). She teaches at the University of Iowa and is co-editor of Canarium Books. Her work has been represented in several anthologies, including Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (Sarabande, 2006), and Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (Iowa, 2007). Her recent poems have been published in journals including in The New Yorker, Poetry, and A Public Space.