An Overlay of Foxes

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:

Red Fox

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
corrupts absolutely,
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.

The World Offers Itself

Late last night, at around midnight, we rode bikes far out into the marsh over the rain-slicked wood jetties. Heat lightning over the sound and the ocean, and the tall grass lit and the sea did too and it all went on forever.



Here's a poem's been on my mind lately. 'Wild Geese' by Mary Oliver...

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Something Like Process

Oversimplified, it goes like this:

Return to Anne Carson's 'Short Talk on Shelter' --> fish heart diagram --> etymology of ventricle, of atrium --> memory of moment --> vicious pruning of moment --> fictionalizing moment --> braiding, drafting, editing --> braiding, drafting, editing --> send to Eric --> cut, cut, cut, reposition, reformat, retitle --> poem?

And running under this whole rickety hull is a benthic depth of struggle.

Notes and a fish heart diagram drawn with a shaky hand.

I'll leave you with Anne Carson & one of the prettiest passages I've ever come across. Will you let me know if you like it? You know how it can get lonesome being alone with something beautiful?

'Short Talk on Shelter'

You can write on a wall with a fish heart, it’s because of the phosphorous. They eat it. There are shacks like that down along the river. I am writing this to be as a wrong as possible to you. Replace the door when you leave, it says. Now you tell me how wrong that is, how long it glows. Tell me.



I will start with my mouth then live with antlers.

My hope was to do these quick sketch-poem-interviews more regularly, but it's summer and this year has been like a hopeful drive to somewhere you eventually realize does not exist, so can you blame me for winging it out to the ocean at every opportunity--and anyway, the sound grass is already going blond this late July.

A thing I inked rapidly after rereading 'Spark of the Sky Stag’s Great Heart'

So, maybe read this poem from Sarah Messer now but then again when you are home after many hour of salting and sunning and you have sand in your shoes, in your teeth.

Sarah first published a draft of this poem on Facebook, and I was so in love with it, I made her send it to me. I was slow to post, though, and it has by now been a featured poem on's poem-a-day, published by the Academy of American Poets. Here it is again, in case you missed it, in all its quiet-hearted majesty. 

Spark of the Sky Stag’s Great Heart

Sarah Messer

strung from a thought arrived through the keyhole grasping
the hand of another

I will begin with my mouth

then live with antlers remembering the light inside, always to breathe this unforgetting

and his body shaped like a crabapple tree

or a mother raised by a wolf looking back at the mirror

and trying not to break anvils on the bottles of blame

in another life: smell of moss, stream water, depressions of dark orange rocks which trap tiny fish

the consequence of silence: a field beneath opening clouds

on that morning I woke to the sound of the blue jay and used a small silver key

some day we will all be gone from this place

now that the live oak has thrown down all its caramel-colored leaves, thought lives in the ear-shaped idea of this only

Copyright © 2015 by Sarah Messer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 29, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

2-Question Interview with Sarah Messer

What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?

  • I love a toasted everything bagel with chive cream cheese and tomato.

Something lost, stolen, or broken that you wish you could get back?

  • Broken….I had a beautiful pottery mug from Portugal that I took with me everywhere. I actually gave it to someone and then took it back secretly. This terrible grasping and selfishness is probably what caused a tree branch to fall on it a month later and break it. Because, really? A tree branch?  This was years ago and I still miss it.


He was never a contained storm.

About a month and a half ago, my little sister saved my life with a letter. It arrived just after I'd done something stupid, and her note, which said she needed me, made me undo the stupid thing. I reversed back into being and started going forward. But because this direction is not always easy and because life is not always an graceful fight, I've been hunting down other letters.

Happily, the best thing about my position in this world is that I've somehow careened into the orbit of some insanely gorgeous and brilliant people. And so, I wanted to share some of the work I love, and which feels epistolary to me, along with quick interviews, and my pretty terrible 30-second illustrations. I hope reading will make you want to throw a few inelegant punches.

First up is a prose poem by Eric Vithalani. It's so good, I feel a little wild when I read it. 'denim pants' unfolds in the negative, both linguistically and temporally--and in other, more complicated ways, too...

denim pants quick sketch

denim pants

sean david carter’s body was never claimed. after the few witnesses never left the viewing area, he was never removed from the execution chamber.  the state appointed physician never declared him dead. his heart never stopped after the last injection, potassium chloride.  the second injection never relaxed his muscles or collapsed his lungs.  there wasn’t a first injection that sedated him after the warden never gave the signal to start.  the two inch thick steel door to the chamber never slammed shut.  he was never a contained storm. an iv was not started and the saline solution did not drip, slow. it did not remind him of fishing for rainbow trout. he was never connected to a cardiac monitor or strapped to a table exactly ten minutes before he did not die.  fifty minutes before that, he was never given a new pair of denim pants and a new blue work shirt.  a couple of hours before that, he wasn’t in a bitter room with the prison chaplain and the warden, sitting at an industrial table. his thoughts never focused on what it would be like.  he never ate the last meal he requested; turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, cranberries, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee, black.  his execution date never happened to fall on thanksgiving.  it was four hours before that when he was never moved off death row and into the death watch cell, continuously observed by a three man staff.  he never put up a fight.  the seventeen hours before that, the sky did not gray, snow did not begin to fall,  protesters did not arrive and his family and friends did not make visitation.  sean david carter never knew who shot the two found at the kitchen table in bathrobes.  she, slumped over like a school girl taking a nap on her desk and he with burned out cigarette between his lips.

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  1. Who will fight alongside you during the zombie apocalypse? My dog, Baxter. I've only had him for a few months now, but he is a loyal, protective little fucker.
  2. Greatest regret? Being an asshole to my parents when I was a teenager.
  3. Physical object/possession you love the most? My camera.

Here's my bio of Eric, which he had nothing to do with: As of 2015, he's been my best friend for 17 years. That camera he mentioned is a Canon 70D, and he has fancy lenses for it, like a 100-400 L series. People buy his photographs. Eric teaches English at Coastal Community College and lives in Surf City, NC. He did his MFA at UNC Wilmington.

A bit of Eric's other work available online: