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Red Fox


The woods in December are standing ruins


As she emerges in the bright cold sun,


                              Fording the back lot's drifts of white powder

                                       Like a ruddy little devil in Heaven.


                                                A claque of snowbirds

                                       Denounce her from the branches.


Lookit—a fox!


Just when winter seemed out of tricks: a sleight of red fox.


    Her audience in the frozen windows,

                 Captive because snowbound,

    Remembers its privilege of forgetting her for months on end.


                       No one runs out with a bowl or a leash.


                       No one's been calling her home.


                                                              We are intrigued

                                                               And the dogs are outraged,


Because her equanimity

                              Is also her insolence,


          And her first false blush

                     Is the perpetual dawn of her freedom.




                                       Father, forgive her!—

                                                      She knows exactly what's she's doing,


                                        This thief who knows that property is theft—

                                                 That when she's stealing from us

                                                                                            She's stealing back.


The will of the wolf we have bent our way—


                                                        Not so the fox's.


                        Fluent in the winter silence,


                                                 With her sassily stiff trot

                                                 And that oversized duster of a tail

                                                                      That can't be her own,


She's been tracking the frozen marshes

On her rounds of the muskrat lodges,


Matching the morning's prints

Of a hare through the naked bramble,


Crouched on her haunches,

                         Watching a gray squirrel's

                        Antics in a pine-top

                                       With unfeigned curiosity

                                  And gnawing hunger—


Then she earned a furbearing morsel

In her highway robbery

Of the under-snow railroads of the voles.




All winter she banks her own fire.



Her sharp clear bark in the frightening cold

Says the fox-year is shorter than the dog-year.



But let the retriever bay at the end of its leash.


Let the lapdog yap from its window by the fire.


Let them beg and fetch and roll over

               Answer to Jerry or Fluffy

                         And slink to their bowl of slaughterhouse offal—


                               Crazy like a dog.


          Though small enough for the lap of luxury—


                                      Small enough to be hellbound

                                                In a handbasket,


                       She'll earn her own death, thank you.


             It seems she arrived

                                     To show us

                                           More of her magic:


                                                How with a glance away

                                                          And a glance back—

                                                                   She's gone,


Our prodigal trickster


                                                        Matching wits with another winter

                                                       Aspiring to be her last.


                                                 You could say the vixen is swathed

                                                      In rabbit, muskrat and squirrel,


                                             A killer—

                                                               Like all of us,


                                This last red daughter of the forests—


                                This other red native who couldn’t be made a slave:


                                                                       Red fox.

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