Monday, 8 July 2019
Feeling Foxy - Four Fox Poems
I was horrified to hear last week that the spectre of fox-hunting had resurfaced over British politics - dragged out of its 19th Century tomb by aptly-named Tory Leadership contender Jeremy Hunt, who had enthused to an audience of party members about his hopes to overturn the 2004 Hunting Act (its self a lukewarm rule change rather than an outright "ban") and ressurect the discredited activity. Interestingly, Hunt never bothered to attemp the old lies about conservation - he opted for the honest rationale of "tradition" and described the practise of riding to hounds as they rip a terrified animal to bits as "part of the heritage of the countryside." Presumably he also thinks that muggings and stabbings are part of the heritage of cities?
Predictably, Hunt - like Theresa May in the 2017 General Election - has since backtracked, faced with an outcry from not only members of the public (85% of whom want hunting banned, including, overwhelmingly, in rural areas) but from his own party. I did wonder if his statement had been calculated to gauge the risk such a policy might carry, or to leak votes to his stag-hunting opponent, whose owncampaign is partly funded by a fox-hunter, in a strategy designed to ensure a Boris Johnson premiership while maintaining the pretence of a democratic party contest ather than a coronation - indeed I took to social meda to accuse him of this latter step - but as time has gone by I've come to the conclusion that this expressed support for hunting was apparently genuine, a reminder that for all of their feigned preference for progressive politics, there are some people who are so detached from modern thinking that they and their communities really are just a Parliamentary vote away from dredging up the cruelties of the past and re-establishing a Britain that went out with chimney sweeps and child labour.
The whole disturbing episode prompted me to collect my various poems on the subject of foxes, which I have reproduced below. I have excluded poems in which foxes feature, but not as the "main" thematic focus. Instead, all are fundamentally foxy poems, inspired by real life sightings of the animals.
a raffish mooch,
each furry step slots promptly
into a moonlit loop -
in and out of lamplight,
smooth as a glob of honey
dissolving into coffee
the midnight searcher tries his luck among the backstreets -
East-end terraces tangle into criss-crossed sprawl,
estaes expand into outgrown concrete crushes,
bottlenecking into pub backyards and warehouse forecourts,
deserted car-parks, scrubland, a grid of lanes where drinkers
straggle out of pubs, prostitutes cross paths, the urban wastelands
and a frosty Wanstead Flats, which veer into the spiderweb of sliproads
pre-empting the M11.
Turning down the High Road, into a block of buildings tightly tucked
into the bricked in ghetto of east London, I am startled by his stare:
Seeing me, his gait assumes rigidity,
a temporary tightening of muscles.
Frozen stiff, this stiffened frame
this nameless midnight wanderer,
mammal of the alleyways,
once more slipped into a casual insouicance
shuffling into shadow.
What I caught last
was not the shapely outline, gingery tint or snow-fluff
tail-tip, as fox fleet-footed out of visibility
but, a souveinir from its shoot-back glance,
two amber eyes half answering,
Bullet of russet muscularity,
knee high and up to your eyes in dandelion,
most feline of your kind,
the always searching canid,
sinewy and taut,
prodigal child of the copse:
no sooner had you brushed against a fence
emerging from sedge as if to prove,
“I still exist,”
than the glimpse of you was gone—
a second’s shred in which to see that tail, ash- white copper-coalesced
trailing like a newly lit cigar.
An unknown quantity, you flow like a tributary
trickling over stones out of the nettled backstreet -
after the deluge as if post-exile, ear-pricked stealthy shuffler
you trot in nonchalance but with half an eye to suss out danger cocked,
or as a compass in the search for sustenance. You're a tilted glass of single malt,
a whisker of rural English charm in the urban incongruity of house-heavy east Leeds,
a shadow bleeding ginger on the blackboard of the night as squeezed between
the takeaways and parked-up cars,
you flip flop-footedly across a road which sparkles in the drizzle and on seeing me
nosedive behind a shed, displaying that quicksilver quirk of fight-or-flight survival
that has paved your way through centuries of persecution and will be needed
in this trap of fumes and concrete, cans and glass laid like tripwire
in the single enormous precinct all of England's become.
into coppiced copse,
stabbing into bramble,
a whisk of fire singeing darkness
like a shot of almond syrup
in black coffee.
Your Jack-o-lantern crafty dance
sees you rop up in oak woods,
combing alleys behind takeaways,
Pulcinello of the suburbs;
combing cobbled streets
in late summer midnights,
crooked penny glinting in the moonlight.