Vixen 1200 1600 Francis Daulerio

for Rabbie Burns and our best-laid schemes

After pulling autumn’s mums from their pots
and tucking the gardens in to sleep
beneath winter bedding of decorative hay,
I bring to the compost bin flint corn,
goose gourds,
and the too-small pumpkins
summer’s over-raining stunted,
propping up the lid with a stick
and tossing it all, one by one, side-armed
over my shoulder into the heap.
And knowing my wife is likely watching
from the window,
I put a little umph into the final offering,
popping out my ass before dropping back
to a three-point fadeaway
so to make her laugh a bit
and forget, maybe for a minute even,
those loved we lost
to this year.

But coming to the pile now to turn,
billowing breath quickened by my folly
puffing out in December’s drop,
I find what first I think is fuzz mold
sprouting from my laziness and absence from this work,
then recognize the red fluff of pelt,
and leaning further in, there she is—
caught dead, a fox,
her black muzzle wedged
through the pallet wood walls
of this unintentional trap, starved flat,
teeth white, nose wet, not from life,
but weather.

And with a backwards hop, pitchfork
up now like a weapon,
there is only the sound of my shuffling in the leaves
and modern prayers
[Jesus Christ! and Holy Shit! and the like]
to break the quiet of this place
to which I now am traitor.

Thinking not of the mice or rabbits
or other small life now likely
praising me, their Artemis,
I free the thing, though far too late
to do real good,
and take her by the tiniest bit of tail, a lump
in my throat,
weaving around
downed limbs and rocks so not to bump her head
and add disrespect to my running list
of fresh offenses.
And coming to an acceptable place
near a bend in the creek,
far enough that my daughter
in her rain-booted splashing
will not see her breaking
back into the earth,
I leave her,
a whispered I’m so sorry
the only words I can summon for this service.

And all of this seems so foolish—
this poem for an animal I shouldn’t care for,
did not know but for quick
glances and haunting shrieks in the night,
whose simple presence lived
as my wife’s best case against the chickens
I’ve begged to bring here.
this simple grief at simple loss,
when our sorrow belongs already
to so much of the world.

But foolish as I am,
and trudging now away, eyes down
past the vacant mason bee house
and the bat box the bats won’t use,
my head is a bucket of April plans
to mend this broken union
and turn our grief and pain back
to promis’d joy.

Header photograph © Karin Hedetniemi.

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