A Skulk of Foxes
On art, culture, and radical hope

Fox Stories

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Following on from yesterday's post on the fox in myth, legend, and mythic arts, I'd like to take a second look at fox imagery in poetry.

There are so many fine poems about foxes that I could fill the page attempting to list them all, but some of the very best include: "The Fox" and "Straight Talk from Fox" by Mary Oliver, "Vixen" and "Fox Sleep" by W.S. Merwin, "The Thought Fox" by Ted Hughes, "February: The Boy Breughel" by Norman Dubie, "The Fox Bead in May" (based on Asian "9-tailed fox" folklore) by Hannah Sanghee Park, "The Fox Smiled, Famished" by Mike Allen, "Michio Ito's Fox & Hawk" by Yusef Komunyakaa, and "Three Foxes by the Edge of the Field at Twilight" by Jane Hirshfield (in the picture captions)...in addition to the fox poems in yesterday's post, and A.A. Milne's charming children's poem about three foxes who don't wear sockses.

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My favorite fox poems of all, however, are by the great American poet Lucille Clifton (1936-2010), whose work "emphasizes endurance and strength through adversity, focusing particularly on African-American experience and family life." Fox Child, from one of my old sketchbooks
Here's the first of them:

telling our stories
by Lucille Clifton

the fox came every evening to my door
asking for nothing. my fear
trapped me inside, hoping to dismiss her
but she sat till morning, waiting.

at dawn we would, each of us,
rise from our haunches, look through the glass
then walk away.

did she gather her village around her
and sing of the hairless moon face,
the trembling snout, the ignorant eyes?

child, i tell you now it was not
the animal blood i was hiding from,
it was the poet in her, the poet and
the terrible stories she could tell.

* * *

The second poem is an absolute stunner: "A Dream
of Foxes," written in six parts. You'll it find here.

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The gorgeous fox photographs today are by British wildlife photographer Richard Bowler.

"I've been passionate about the natural world all my life," Richard says. "This interest led me into angling, to get closer to a world hidden beneath the surface of a river or lake. Angling took me all over the world, to places well off the beaten track, North, South and Central America, the Indian ocean and my particular favourite, Africa. It was on these trips that I felt the need to learn how to capture what I was seeing with the camera. Soon taking pictures became much more important than catching fish, and now I'm much more likely to be found holding a camera than a fishing rod. I hope through my photographs to show the character of the animal and, through that, to make people care."

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Lucille CliftonThe poem above is from The Terrible Stories by Lucille Clifton (BOA Editions,  1996). The poem in the picture captions is from Each Happiness Ringed by Lions by Jane Hirshfield (Bloodaxe Books, 2005). The drawing above, "Fox Child & Friend," is from one of my sketchbooks. All rights to the poems and imagery in this post are reserved by their creators.

Comments

Believe it or not, it wasn't until I read this aloud that I realised just how much alliteration I'd used! But then I thought sod it, I like alliteration!


A VERSUS OF VIXENS

A versus of vixens
Cracked the day
In bright brittle shards
Of scattered screams
And broken barks.

We thought squirrels
Had been trapped
In a cage of teeth
And intents of death

But instead
Two living flames
Of rivalry,
Russet red with rage,
Fought a war
In lexicons
of fox and ferocity.

Until one withdrew
In a tumbled tangle
Of limbs and loss,
Bloodied and bowed
By whatever wounding word
Had found its mark.


Fox’s Little Book

Fox’s little book
Holds pressed flowers
Between its pages,
Lavender and daisy,
Still opposites.


The scent of brown bread
In a neighbor’s kitchen,
Warm from the aga,
Without the milky cataracts
Of butter.


The patter of rain like bullets
On grey stones,
Plash of river rills,
Splash of water
Over man-made dams.


The aching howl of dogs
Who have lost the track,
After going painfully under
And over hedgerows,
Pacing the braes.


The little fox loves her book.
It holds memories
Of befores and afters,
And the laughter of kits
When she returns home safe


With a warm dinner in her mouth.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Thank you, Jane and Stuart. Wonderful foxiness indeed!

"Oh Foxy Lady!" Jimi Hendrix sang those words deep into my wild child dreams and how I wanted to be experienced, I wanted to try everything!

The Fox

“There is more and more I tell no one” -Jane Hirschfield

The fox endures our chattering.
Like the blathering of songbirds,
our constant noise
must menace him.
So many roads and planes
and poems
where there was grass and wind.
Nevermind.
He thinks only of the wind change,
the next hot meal,
the vixen living near the river.
Complaints don't serve his style.

Sharp! I like the last stanza best. Whew, that last wounding word must have been vicious. Well done.

Oh yes! I love her little book. That last line inspired one of my own below. I also enjoyed the "aching howl of dogs/ who have lost the track". Of course this would delight our sweet fox. =)

Hi terri

I absolutely adore that poem by Lucille Clifton and love the way she relates to the fox, finding something of herself in its nature. I also know that poem by Jane Hirshfield and have always thought it to be beautifully quiet and moving. One year as a gift, my husband gave me Akira Kurowasa's beautiul film "Dreams." In the opening sequence, he explores the wedding day of the fox, the nuptial rites/procession and the hidden presence of a human boy witnessing this forbidden event. The film also revealed that foxes "only marry on days when the sun shines while it is raining."


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGyrdfXVOlA

( there is a commercial at beginning of clip but the add can soon be skipped)


Inspired I wrote a prose poem about an envious vixen
wanting to steal the talent and soul of a mortal artist. She contrived a plan to
accomplish this goal without counting on the unforseen consequences.

It's simply a story of deceit and ill intent, of what can happen when you long for and plan something that will benefit you but hurt someone fatally in the process. I think in all stories across the mythical/cultural spectrum there is that general tenet of fate giving back to you what you give out. When you mentioned in the comments section of yesterday's post, that the second way Asian foxes could become mortal was through "years of vigorous study", I thought of this old poem and how it may relate to the idea in a contrary way - of wanting to achieve the knowledge/skills without putting in the study and discipline, of wanting to rob from another's success to claim it as one's own. Where as this view sees the fox in her most sinister light, I would love to see that "gentle fox spirit" achieve his or her humanity through the noble act of scholarly endeavors -- if you are ever so inclined to write the story.

Kitsune

According to Japanese legend, foxes only wed on a day when the sun shines while it’s raining.
From the film, Dreams, by Akira Kurowasa


The wild fox fussed, combing her russet hair
with a broken root and looked at herself
in the lake. She thought what a beautiful bride
she would make – and threw away her grooming tool,
a remnant of the green willow.

Crickets had promised they would arrange
for rain the next day mixed with sun.
And so she invited a village girl
to dine with her in the forest den.

A young artist known for her skill
and idyllic sketch, who had disclosed that art
was her soul, the rush in her blood, her breath.

The sly fox did not mention
it would be her wedding day
when humans were forbidden to view
such blessed feasts. And if such an offense
should occur, the animals became furious,
demanding the offender give his or her life
for absolution.

The cool fox longed to absorb
the girl’s spirit and taste the spill
of virgin blood as the penitent
pierced her heart with a silver knife.

Then she would become
this red-haired huntress from the wood
who dipped the marsh reed into ink
and drew magic scenes on rice paper.

Who left her husband curled in sleep
and slipped into lines
of sky and water, grass and trees
wings and fins, palms and heels.
Everything the mind could map and conjure.

The vain fox looked again
at herself in the lake and saw a vision
of tomorrow. There was no rain but a few clouds
and the blackness of a veiled shadow
she feared. The dark fate had come for her

not the girl at the work bench
with her slim stick and white bowl
shimmering pale as the sun
caught in a seine of showers.
_____________________________

Again, many thanks for this Terri!
Take care

Wendy

Hi Stuart

But instead
Two living flames
Of rivalry,
Russet red with rage,
Fought a war
In lexicons
of fox and ferocity.

This is clever and imaginative. I like the sparring between the power of the trait and that of the species, itself. The phonetic arrangement of words is wonderful on the ear and the tongue. It adds a deliciously sharp edge, wit to this entire piece.

Very much enjoyed!
Wendy

Hi Jane

I, too, love the fox's little book and the lyricism of its descriptive memories --

The patter of rain like bullets
On grey stones,
Plash of river rills,
Splash of water
Over man-made dams.


The aching howl of dogs
Who have lost the track,
After going painfully under
And over hedgerows,
Pacing the braes.

this poem entirely delights with its enchanting language and personification of the fox. I can relate to her and certainly that "scent of brown bread in a neighbor's kitchen".

Thank you for sharing this,
I really enjoyed it!

My Best
Wendy

Hi Edith

Love the way you characterize the "basic concerns" of the fox. This phrase is so perfectly in tune with the interruptive noise of birds --

"Like the blathering of songbirds," and the rest of poem just shines with its spare language and thought flow that
define the style of the male fox. I hope he found his hot meal, mate and conducive weather.

Thanks for posting this one,
Very enjoyable!
Take care
Wendy

I *like* the alliteration. It's a poem that begs to be read aloud.

Heart-melting, Jane.

I actually said "Hah!" out loud as I finished reading the poem. Perfect ending!

I love the story embedded in this one, Wendy. In fact, it makes me long to know more about them both, the kitsune and the young artist.

Thanks so much Terri

Maybe in time, I will turn it into a short story and see what further happens.

Again,
many thanks!
Wendy

What a tale! I haven't seen this film, but now I think I must. I feel quite drawn in by this jealous vixen character who would leave
"...her husband curled in sleep"
and slip "into lines
of sky and water, grass and trees
wings and fins, palms and heels."
Just lovely, Wendy.

Thanks so much Edith!

I deeply appreciate your lovely comments and interest in this tale of mine. The film is a work of art and covers a variety of dreams, surreal and haunting from joyous to grievous. The ending is breathtaking and shows the beauty of running water spun into action by water wheels; plus it's underscored by a classic piece played by The Russian symphony.

Again, Thank you!
Wendy

I've never heard of Lucille, but she really is worth a checking out!
Thx for this very insightful blog post.

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