On Saturday afternoons, I would race around
the living-room tugging shades to windowsills, conjuring
the perfect ambiance for Chiller Theater, grainy, black
and white prints of Universal horror films: Frankenstein,
Dracula, The Wolf Man. I loved it all: the gas lights
with their soft coronas like stocking caps, the horseshoed
clap of carriage horses striking brick streets, the primordial
moors with their blighted, wizened trees, the battered
battlements of castles and that fine textured fog that clothed
everything with a nap like carded wool. And they
were there, red-eyed and ravening for a communion
of blood, flesh or companionship. They prowled
the hinterlands of dreams, placing clammy hands
on bare necks and shoulders, raising hair with howls
that sliced through ordered, close-cropped lives.
I collected models of them, pieces of bright-colored plastic
I welded with airplane glue on my grandparents’ back porch.
With enamel paint, I dotted the corner of Dracula’s mouth
and chin with a scarlet dribble, punctuated the crisscross
of suture lines along Frankenstein’s forehead
and wrists in black, and shaded the Wolfman’s
fur and face with tawny and burnt umber
while in the kitchen, my parents and grandparents spoke
in hushed tones about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I displayed them upon the mantle where they perched
like gargoyles guarding the hearth. And at night,
before bed, I recited the Gypsy woman’s caution
that “Even a man who is pure in heart and says
his prayers by night may turn into a werewolf when
the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”
before glancing at the backyard swathed
in darkness and drawing the shade.
—Chuck Wagner (Hamilton County)
Chuck Wagner lives in Westfield and teaches creative writing and literature at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. His poems have appeared in Cottonwood, Kansas Quarterly, Little Balkins Review, Hopewell Review, and the anthology, And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2011).
Poetry Prompt: A Childhood Obsession
What childhood obsession do you recall? Were you a fan of a particular superhero or character in a book or movie? Did you collect something like fossils or baseball cards or Barbie dolls? Did you have a fascination with a certain country or a particular color? Write a poem in which you explore how this obsession took over your life—whether for a few days or over the course of years. Consider how your preoccupation related to what was happening in your family or in the wider world.
Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem and prompt every day in April. Indiana Poet Laureate Shari Wagner selected these poems and wrote the prompts.