Elizabeth Deanna Morris Lakes’ new poetry book Ashley Sugarnotch & the Wolf, published this year by Mason Jar Press, is a re-envisioning of Little Red Riding Hood. In the traditional fable, the wolf eats the girl’s grandmother and disguises himself in the grandmother’s nightclothes, encouraging the girl to come closer, as he intends to eat her, too. Morris Lakes tells her version of this narrative through several dozen poems. It’s a conversation between a young woman and her aggressor: most poems told from the victim’s perspective and a few from the wolf’s. Here, the girl is a bit older and more permanently haunted.
She has different versions of her nightmare: the wolf might serve up her grandmother for dinner, while a cat taunts her as “a little cannibal slut.” (“We All Think We Know About the Wolf”) From this very first poem, it’s made clear that the wolf is (or is a memory of) an abuser, and the power dynamic is always in the wolf’s favor. He’s on the hunt, and the young woman’s first and most natural method of defense is to pretend he’s a trick of her imagination. “And isn’t it so easy / to disregard the beast? As easy / as it is for him to devour the girl.”
Early on, we learn that her father murdered her mother. Thus, later in life: “When I learned about the golden ratio, I saw my pain like a part of nature, a shell or a bean pole, spiraling from a center point.” (“Ashley Sugarnotch and a World of”) Another prose poem, “Ashley Sugarnotch Finds her Mother,” begins: “What difference does it make whether I was in the house or not in the house?” This is a keen reflection on the nature of traumatic memories, because, of course, what matters is not exactly where she had been five minutes before but rather the moment she sees her mother’s body. “…either I would walk downstairs and see her, or open up the front door, and see her…” Either way, the outcome is the same. She can revise the rest of her memory, but that moment of finding her mother is fixed in place forever. Now she is “a daughter with no father” (“Ashley Sugarnotch Knows Your Number at 2 in the Morning”).
The wolf, too, gets to speak. In his first monologue, “The Wolf and the Cup of Tea,” he greets her by saying “this: the first time / that i saw you / ashley. in my / chair at my desk / i can see right / into the break / room.” (From this instant, I cannot help but hear the wolf speaking in the voice of Gmork, the werewolf from the 1984 film Neverending Story who whisper-growls at the boy hero: “If you come any closer, I will rip you to shreds.”)
It’s not clear who, exactly, the wolf is: the imprisoned assassin-father, a rapist, a heartless lover, or some part of Ashley—awake or asleep—that is devouring herself. That it is left ambiguous makes it all the scarier. Because the wolf is the only person to speak directly to the Little Red Riding Hood figure in this book, he is the only one to call her by the name Ashley. Apart from the titles of the poems, we don’t hear “Ashley” pronounced except in the wolf’s voice. He is the victim-blaming manipulator who says “the last / thing i want is to find you in my dreams tonight / and crack open your ribs and rid your body / of its organs” (“The Wolf Attempts to Explain Himself”) and “i can be rational when / you aren’t near” (“The Wolf: A Shadow Manifested”).
And so she seeks to reclaim herself, considering “the urge to mark my body with ink. Marking it would make it mine, I think.” (“Ashley Sugarnotch Was the Hunter”)
Morris Lakes has also included a long poetic “Coda” in which she explains some of her writing process and context.
The depth of this character’s pain is difficult to fathom, which makes it a sensitive story. Morris Lakes leverages the old fable bravely and powerfully to create an unforgettable, bivalent Ashley-and-the-Wolf voice.
Elizabeth Deanna Morris Lakes. Ashley Sugarnotch & The Wolf. Mason Jar Press, 2020.
Ashley Sugarnotch & The Wolf
About The Essay Author
Tucker Lieberman is the author of the nonfiction books Ten Past Noon, Bad Fire, and Painting Dragons. His short fiction is in Mad Scientist’s I Didn’t Break the Lamp and Elly Blue’s forthcoming Trans-Galactic Bike Ride.
Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, he lives in Bogotá, Colombia. You can check more of what Tucker is up to by going to www.tuckerlieberman.com or following him on Twitter @tuckerlieberman