The Pale Fox
Spring is here, her cloak swollen wet
with the last of Winter’s melt.
The sun has yet to unfurl his backbone,
but my father is already out, climbing
the big hill towards the woods.
I can see his lips moving. He curses the sky,
and her many tongues of drizzle.
It was yesterday the news came,
of a pale fox, fur and eyes
white as elderflowers.
I watch him through my bedroom window,
gun slung across his back.
He is in the woods for hours,
and comes back as dusk is settling the sun in her lap.
The pale fox is over his shoulder.
I can see her eyes from a quarter of a mile away.
I imagine how she would have been
as my father approached the den,
and she could smell his sour scent emerge
through the undergrowth.
Her entire body would have been pointed,
pointed like an arrow, like a spear, like a sword.
You should’t have taken it, my mother says,
mashing tea. The wood’s won’t like it.
You should have let her be.
He ignores her. He always ignores her.
But my mother grew up with one foot in the furrows,
one foot in the forest. She knows the land,
she has tasted the roots of its mysteries.
There is much boasting as mother cleans father’s bait box,
pours the tea, folds the kitchen cloths into neat squares
with her eyes closed.
I follow the sharp tang of death back to a silent den.
I find them, the cubs, pale as their mother, clutched
together in a knot of white fur, tiny teeth and dry blood.
Maggots are already crawling in their eyes.
I wonder where the father is.
Is he running back over the hills to home,
a pheasant between his teeth?
I gently move the cubs away from the entrance,
they are still slightly soft.
I fill the den in with soil,
locking them deep inside with the dark.
What had they seen already of the world?
I wonder if the father will dig them out.
I wonder if he will scream tonight.
My father has the pale fox taxidermied
before the weekend is over.
He stands her in the hallway.
Her eyes have been preserved in formaldehyde
and has them on the mantelpiece.
My father and his friends drink whisky
from stout crystal glasses.
My Mother dips candles and dries lavender.
They stoke the fox’s back, call her ‘the foolish white bitch.’
Father talks of how he strangled her so as
not to stain her coat. I imagine how she lifted
her lips back over her teeth until her last brave breath.
Father tells his friends that in Finland, the aurora borealis
is known as revontulet – fox fires – because
it was believed foxes painted the skies
with their tails.
He tells his friends that the Celts
honoured the fox for its wisdom.
I told him of these things.
They laugh, holding their guts, tears swarming
down fat cheeks. They talk about the forthcoming hunt,
for the copper brothers and sisters of the pale fox.
The fever starts unexpectedly,
and father goes to bed for days.
She was in here, with her cubs,
at the bottom of the bed, she was there
and they were all screaming, they were all screaming!
He talks of nothing but the visiting foxes.
The pale fox and her cubs come every day until
my father is messing himself, hiding under his covers,
making upon the bed a quivering mountain.
The smell of shit takes over the whole house.
The fox’s body still stands in the hallway,
proud, pale, a formidable woodland queen.
I bury her one night, just inside the woods.
I wish for her peace over my father’s.
As father dies, he makes one hideous noise
after another, until fading into silence,
a silence unlike any I have ever known.
The swollen green jewels of his eyes turn milky,
and pale fox cubs chase their tails around his bed
while the mother sits atop his chest and cleans herself.
This poem was inspired by a sculpture by Christy Langer.