945: The Jungle

945: The Jungle

945: The Jungle


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

Today’s poet reflects on a girlhood lived in contrast to boys. Feral boys whose roads to manhood were paved by recklessness and violence. From inside the auditorium of her son’s school play, of all places, she leads us through a dark labyrinth of questions: What does it mean to be a girl, then a woman, then a mother to a son in this culture, this chaos, this jungle?

The Jungle
by Carrie Fountain

In motherhood I begin
to celebrate my own

smallest accomplishments,
as when I wake to find

I’ve slept through the night
and I feel a little healed

because sleeping is something 
I didn’t learn how to do until

I was an adult and had to read
a book about it because, I’ve

always liked to joke, I was
raised by wolves. I was raised

by wolves was, in fact, the very
joke I made in explaining 

to a fellow mom as the children’s
theater went dark that, like my own

youngest son, I was seeing The Jungle
Book for the first time. I don’t 

even know what it’s about, I said.
I was sort of raised by wolves,

I said and laughed, and then
the curtain went up and I was

shocked, of course, to find
The Jungle Book is about a boy

who was raised by wolves,
and I am shocked again now,

having just googled it, to find
the number one query

associated with Rudyard 
Kipling is: Is the Jungle Book 

a real story? People are dumb
is what I was thinking, I admit,

when I read that, but then 
I clicked and clicked and found

that—oh my god—The Jungle 
Book is based on the story

of a feral boy found running
on all fours alongside a wolf

in the Indian jungle, which is
funny to me because feral

is the word that has always come
to mind when I think of the boys

I grew up with: those feral boys
who moved through the world

with the ease afforded to those
who didn’t give two shits

about anything, who’d empty
beer cans in seconds, wrap cars

around poles, all the while joking
about fucking each other’s 

mothers. They were feral
in the desert shooting guns out

by the airport. They were feral
on their skateboards in the Whata-

burger parking lot. They were feral
because they were allowed

to be, and eventually we’d all
get in trouble for what they’d been

doing, even us girls who—what did 
we do all that time while the boys 

were fighting and spitting
and calling us whores? I don’t

know. We were talking to each
other, I guess, which is how we

became human. But no—no.
Those boys weren’t feral. Those boys

were typical. They’d been born
knowing the world would be theirs

long after they’d grown bored
of nihilism and turned their attention

to capital, became men, became man-
kind, the kind of men who’d ruin

something if it meant they got to
keep it, who’d kill something 

if it meant they could see it up close,
maintain the illusion of having

owned it, having earned it, even,
who’d track a boy and a wolf

through the jungle for days until
finally they had them trapped

inside their own den. When those
men found they couldn’t lure

the boy out with words, they forced
him out with smoke. And when

the boy finally stepped out into
the sunlight those men captured

him, bound him, and when the wolf 
who was the boy’s mother came

following close behind, the way,
at intermission, I followed my own

son, who is by now too old
to come with me into the women’s

room, to the very threshold
of the men’s room door—when she

came out behind him, they shot her.

“The Jungle” by Carrie Fountain from THE LIFE © 2021, Carrie Fountain. Used by permission of Penguin Random House.