Yesterday at dusk, out on a walk, I saw another fox. The roads were empty, and the fox stopped in the center lane to look at me. I watched as it turned and limped into the treeline. Perhaps it was hurt, or perhaps foxes always appear to be limping prettily and daintily to me. In any case, a red-tailed hawk swooped low over my shoulder and vanished after it. I could have reached up and grazed the bird's belly with my fingertips. That hawk ate an opossum a few evenings ago. My neighbor made a film of it. Maybe all this is why, today, I have been in three places: Lia Purpura's "Red: an Invocation," Margaret Atwood's "Red Fox," and the overlay of these two pieces in my own puttering brain. The overlay, I'm coming to understand, is memory: my fox underpinned by theirs. Like shadows behind these two works are all the other foxes I've read about, and isn't it something how many worlds we carry and lay down for our own feet to walk through again and again.
I first read Purpura's flash essay in the Seneca Review years and years ago. It begins:
"I remember the fox in the light I drove forth. It was just before dawn. The headlights lit the fox's eyes, who did not blink but passed the light back, so it shone between us. Two beams of dust in the colloidal silence spread and touched the dark brush by the side of the alley. The fox was ember-colored, fresh-snapped, and already cooling."
And here is Atwood's poem:
The red fox crosses the ice
intent on none of my business.
It's winter and slim pickings.
I stand in the bushy cemetery,
pretending to watch birds,
but really watching the fox
who could care less.
She pauses on the sheer glare
of the pond. She knows I'm there,
sniffs me in the wind at her shoulder.
If I had a gun or dog
or a raw heart, she'd smell it.
She didn't get this smart for nothing.
She's a lean vixen: I can see
the ribs, the sly
trickster's eyes, filled with longing
and desperation, the skinny
feet, adept at lies.
Why encourage the notion
of virtuous poverty?
It's only an excuse
for zero charity.
Hunger corrupts, and absolute hunger
or almost. Of course there are mothers,
squeezing their breasts
dry, pawning their bodies,
shedding teeth for their children,
or that's our fond belief.
But remember - Hansel
and Gretel were dumped in the forest
because their parents were starving.
Sauve qui peut. To survive
we'd all turn thief
and rascal, or so says the fox,
with her coat of an elegant scoundrel,
her white knife of a smile,
who knows just where she's going:
to steal something
that doesn't belong to her -
some chicken, or one more chance,
or other life.