by Lois P. Jones
First Place, June 2012
Judged by Shara McCallum

Only a careful bird like me can see
your nine tails twitching at once.
The small pointed snout of a dog,

your fur a place of night crawlers.
You have ears on your legs — bristles
turned to hear a rabbit’s breath,

the rasping of earthworms, all the quiet
without defense. You have fed
on my eggs. I see them in your

phosphorous eyes as if a lamp swung
before your face. You are everywhere,
shapeshifting like a shore, aurora

of Northern Lights. Even as I perch
near the Canal du Midi your tails squeeze
my thoughts, wind toward the wide mouth

of the river. You smell of the feast,
the afterbirth, your lair musky with the slain.
Glistening and beaded.

This poem is in great company and holds its own with the likes of poems by contemporary poets Lucille Clifton and Adrienne Rich, who have also used the fox as a metaphysical conceit. The language of this poem is highly inventive, rich and evocative, and is what immediately distinguished it. Phrases like “rasping of earthworms” or “your lair musky with the slain” conjure fantastical images. On repeated readings, though, I also loved how the poem tethers us to the real: the direct address used in the poem creates a relationship between the speaker (the “careful bird,” perhaps a goose, whose eggs the fox has “fed on”) and the fox, which extends the conceit of the poem further, delivering in the process a complex allegory of the bond between victim and victimiser. This fable-like poem accomplishes the feat of bringing pleasure to the reader, even as it disturbs. --Shara McCallum