To a Fox in a Leg-hold Trap

by Brenda Levy Tate
First Place, January 2016
Judged by Lee Slonimsky

I will bear witness
that you have come to this river
out of thirst, perhaps, or a longing
to see yourself reflected just one time
in its movable mirror.

I will speak of those steel teeth,
the devastating claw-lock
you could not understand –
an evil beyond your small capacity.
A sin far past your ability
to commit.

The scrap of bait on gravel,
the ragged cloth of your tail
furled in defeat, that cold mist
settling on your flame coat –
I, an old and broken woman
on the road, will record them.

Every water-side stone must seem
a mountain to you, huge and harsh,
terrifying in its indifference.
Your maimed leg will never let
you climb away from anything.

Your eyes gleam at me – amber –
with no caught creature in them
except yourself, lit with the flare
of a fatal intelligence. If you were dim,
some stupid crawling slug,
would it matter then, I wonder?

I tell you to wait for mercy; that I
have summoned help.
But you have been a trickster,
the dancing god of illusion.
You understand the alternatives.

Pain through the coming night
or a death at our pale hands,
those same beings who decree
that you and your kind do not
count for much by comparison
with us, and with ours.

Officials arrive with compassionate
finality. I am asked to leave,
because this is no sight for anyone
who carries hope like a candle
and believes there is, still, any
kindness left. Kindness. Such

a decrepit and magnificent

This poem is a triumph of empathy and moral insight into ignorant cruelty. In a solemn and straightforward tone (“I will bear witness…I, an old and broken woman/on the road/will record…”) it recounts a series of excruciating facts, and the overlooked consciousness of the fox, and the massive indifference of its fate, all in bleak yet vivid language that a reader will never forget. “Every water-side stone must seem/a mountain to you, huge and harsh,” is an example of a line that gives voice to the sensibility of the fox with a beautiful and realistic image. “To a Fox” has crossed a boundary between species, one of thought and experience, in its profound poetic vigor. --Lee Slonimsky