Bhanu RiderBhanu Kapil Rider

Working Note

I am interested in those subjects—nomads, immigrants, cyborgs, wolf girls—who are segmented and seeking: a woman, for example, re-attributing herself or unfolding to a set plane upon command. What does the shape of her body and her mind look like as she moves through the world? (A woman who, in the narrative, precedes and follows her own birth. The whole body has the same tone, thus no ellipsis, no separate commentaries or asterisks.) That is my experiment: to make the line travel towards a confused origin—hyper-organic, splitting the skin, still livid.



Excerpt from "The Diary of the Wolf Girls of Midnapure" by the Reverend Joseph Singh: (re-written): The True Story of Two Girls, ages one and seven, found by the Rev. Singh, suckling a Wolf in a cave in West Bengal, India, in 1916; The Wolf killed, then the Sisters taken to his Mission Orphanage, to be raised as “Human Beings again.”; The younger dies.

“Wet, wet, green, green. I mix with them and prosper. A baby! Sticky then my mumma licks me clean. Best is brown next to yellow. Best is blue, then brown. Best yellow. Where will the sun go when it’s finished?, I ask my mother. Through her skin. So red she is. The sun goes into the ground.            Because my mother does, she does so every night. We watch her disappear and then we disappear. Blue as blue, then brown, then green, then black:            the holy books of your people foretold this.”
                                    — An account of my sister, who did not want to leave her home.


The Reverend father put a pink and unnatural silvery shade into her body: bowls of semolina, with raspberry jam, to make her live. People came and went, observing. Then: a sheet over her head, a fire in the corner, and ropes of stale marigolds on the bushes where she loved to be. I could not ask for more. But the best green-found girl is gone behind the sun, I cannot follow. Telling those colors would rent even a jungle to ruin.


A white smoke fills the compound. The younger and I wake in a scrawled ball in the younger’s cot; she yowls all night and the stronger girls do not bear it.

        After the difficult bath, breakfast. Enjoining us to eat the creamy swarm, but we are gaunt, problems. The younger sucks on the raisins I spoon off for her, but I am not a mother and set upon my own slop with some strength. A warrior must prepare for battle even on her deathbed, my mother used to say. Though when they came, she looked up from her bones and with one crack in the stuff of her, she was gone. They put us in sheets and took us.
          Where were we? My life slipped out of me and down, when now the sun, my enemy, has baked up all the holes. I ask the rain to soften the earth so my life may come back to me, upwards.

                  The younger, I fear,

her life turned into a snakebird; flew up into the blacking sky, a migrant. By now in the far north, grazing in a lush swamp grotted with basic lilies. Perhaps it is for the best.

        Then the compound, our play. The churning orphans gallop. I make my place by the long wall. My sister crawls under the thorn bushes and hisses. I am a coward. If I was a true daughter to my mother the wolf, I would put my teeth on the red leg of the nearest girl of all. White ghost, white ghost, she sings. But my eyes are bad. I will not leave the shadows.


An owl is a dragon.

Milk is thin blood.

Silver colors under the palm—payment

      for drinking. I grew and grew.

One grey skirt with a maroon stripe along the hem. “And in the an-cient days o-of old, on Eng-land’s green and plea-sant—.” My frayed blue hymnal I always forget in the box under my cot and the Reverend twists my ears.

A wolf

A wolf?          A wolf is a brown girl with scratches on her knees, from following. An owl is a friend to her. In dreams, he is half a man, a mate suitable for the sharing of water; “a man throws water on the step and then she steps out of the house,”                                                                           she imagines.

I imagine my milk but it will not come without a mother. Even the silver is fishes Assi-ma puts down for killing, on the wood. The sea must be near to us, how else can the pomfret travel in a bucket to our mission.

It must be Friday.

I must still be a child.


A knife strung by a hole in its handle above the cot. “But where is Michael?” says the Reverend to the sky.

      Two cups of salt-water gathered from the body of the younger; she fails. A second man, turbaned and efficient, drinks from her river; has done worse, for lesser payment. When the wind rises, he’s hopeful. Wizardly, grandmother-like feelings flood his chest and stomach. The old woman, Assi-ma, a muslim, brings him battered chicken and he gobbles, glancing over at the child.

       Nothing happens.

      When it starts to rain, the pipal tree shakes. Then the rain stops and there is no wind but the tree is still going hard as if baggy owls are roosting there, but it’s too early for owls. Visitors. Offerings of little oranges. When he puts an orange on her stomach, blood pours out of her navel. Then it stops. The exorcist is forty-two years old this past May and cannot explain it.


Chanting, what he’s paid for. A few days later, he feels small as an egg to hear she’s died. His wife brings him his tea on the veranda.


A girl was a speck on the ground, so the wolf-wife picked her up in her hairy beak and flew off into the trees.

When the girl was found in the milky cave, they shot her mother and tore her out of her hair.

Because she urinated standing up, they wrapped her pelvis in white cottons. Because she keened over her bowl of sugary tea, they spoke in English, enunciating.

Her lips were wet and red as she clucked up at the mongoose in the mango tree. She would not come down. The Reverend told the gardener to bring a long stick. “She does not look into my eyes when I ask her questions,” he wrote in his diary.

“When the Reverend Mrs. fed her milk from a sucking sponge, she clung to the hem of her sari and would not let go.” Day in, day out, for the next cycle of seven years, they followed her in a tight circle, trying to turn her back into a human being. There is a formal photograph that survives in anthologies of this period:

the wolf-girl seated at their feet, center front of a row of orphans. The eyes of the good children do not waver. When the man shouts cheese from under his black cape, she is the only one who looks up at a passing raven, shaking her head like a dog on a rope and calling: “Cowowowowow!” The Reverend father kicks her hard, his face completely still, but it is too late. It is 1918. The photograph will be blurry.


        “In the jungle it is an altered conscious. The trees are. And the floor is—slipping. My mother gave me meats of many kinds for my breakfasts, and I thrived. I had no sense of the future, what urban capricorn living would be like. Did not know the weakness of external mothers and fathers. Did not know how weak the food is. They bring it to you on a plate and call it “jungle greens,” because the jungle is near. Women and girls tilt over their bowls in the central compound. If my mother saw them she would snap their thighs in two and suck. Rip, rip. Aaaaaaah, deep as a tongue to the chest in ritual.
        When I grew up, they said I needed to think again, think about who I was. Saying nothing, doing nothing, I went home. Smoking trains, an ox cart, and then on foot into distortions. Some pooris and fried potatoes, in a tiffin. Stopping to eat, I took off my sandals and panties, tucked them into the roots of a veining tree.”

(The last they heard of her.)

Bio: Bhanu Kapil Rider is a writer living in Colorado. A chapbook of prose, Autobiography of a Cyborg, was recently published in the Leroy Chapbook Series. A book of prose is forthcoming from Kelsey Street Press.

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