Through an overheated room of people
is another overheated room of people,
and through that, down the stairs,
out the door, I see the fox.
As we walk to meet each other
in the road, I’m convinced it’s a cat or dog,
from its incautious, expectant approach
delicate steps and back-and-forth swish
of a finishing-school debutante
until we are less than a foot apart,
its nose almost touching my knee.
Broken fox, I decide,
like squirrels and pigeons squatting over gutters.
We circle each other and I retreat first,
head down below the sightline of the road,
through snow deep enough to bathe in,
to the south end of the river where the water still runs
in emerald splits and rivulets,
where no one has drilled and human footprints cease.
I lie on my back on the ice,
in the center of nothingness, beatific white.
The moon begins bright as a work light,
occluded over time by fog
like a thickening swarm of insects.
My bones settle and rearrange as though for sleep.
A lulling warmth spreads through the fat of my thighs
and the webbing between my toes.
I can hear my breathing and then I can’t.
I can hear the crackling of foolhardy company,
ice snapping from ice.
Incredibly, the fox has returned.
He scampers weightlessly to safety,
places his body parallel to mine,
stands still and waits
to see what I will do.
Questions and Answers
As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?
I’ve met a lot of young poets who read mostly or exclusively “canonical” poetry by great figures of the past, especially those who first came to poetry through the classroom. I think if you aspire to be published, if you want to be part of the contemporary poetry scene, you have to engage with that scene—celebrate and support it, and be conscious of the work your peers are doing. Go to readings, read lit mags and new collections from small publishers, befriend other poets and inspire each other, champion work you care about. If you want to be read, you can’t write alone in a bubble, conversing with the dead; you have to go out and become part of something diverse, alive, and ever-changing.
What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?
The incident in the poem happened more or less exactly as written. In 2015, I did a three-month residency at the Berton House in Dawson City, YT, during the freeze-up of the Yukon River. The imperfect transition from a wide, fast-moving body of water to ice solid enough to support a truck was fascinating and existentially terrifying—walking across the river and seeing places where it was still liquid, knowing the abyss that lay below. Of course, lots of people lived off-grid on the west side of the river, and they crossed every day with babies, groceries, and mail. After the freeze, I went to lie on the ice almost every night. It was a great place to think and to stargaze. Grey foxes roamed the town like raccoons, seeking heat and garbage. The first fox I encountered at close range followed me down to the river.