The Fox Wife

The Fox Wife
by Theodora Goss

I saw you dancing in a glade alone,
feet bare and dressed in nothing but a rag,
your red hair like a fire around your head.
I had to stand and look and keep on looking.

I saw you standing there among the trees,
smelled you before I saw you. First, I thought
you were a hunter. But no, you smelled of earth,
not death. I danced because I saw you looking.

Day after day, I went back to that glade.
And sometimes you were there, and sometimes not.

That was deliberate. I did not want you
to always get what you were coming for.
One day you stepped into the glade and spoke:
“I have been watching you. Can you forgive me?”

I wanted to say more: you burn so brightly,
I wonder that the forest is still standing.
You are more graceful than a flock of doves.
You should be dressed in silk instead of rags.
I am only a farmer, but I love you.

And yet somehow you said all of those things.
At least, I heard them and I followed you
out of the forest and into the farmyard.
The dogs barked, but you would not let them near me.

I did not know why all the dogs were barking.
What was it made you come? Now tell me truly.
Was it the possibility of finding
a home, a husband, not some soggy burrow?

That, I suppose. And then you looked so handsome.
And then there were the dresses, silk as promised.
I could have done worse than a prosperous farmer.

Or better: you would make a splendid lady,
upon your horse and riding by his lordship.

You flatter me. But then, you know I like it.
When I was heavy with our oldest son,
you told me I still looked just like the girl
you first saw dancing in the forest glade.

And so you did. Now dear, be reasonable . . .
Were we not always happiest together,
on rainy afternoons when you sat sewing
and I would read to you from some old book?
Or when we would go walking in the spring
to see the glade you dance in filled with bluebells?
Or when we watched our sons and daughter sleeping,
three heads with hair like fire upon the pillows.
Where are they now? Where are our children, dear?

Down in the burrow, safe from you and yours.

I would not hurt a hair upon their heads.

You hung my sister’s pelt upon the door.
You said there had been foxes in the henhouse.
You set those traps and did not think to tell me.

But how was I to know? Be reasonable . . .

Each night, while you lay sleeping, I snuck out.
A thing that was once wild is never tame.
I went to smell the earth, to meet my kind.
I went to see the bright disk of the moon.
You set those traps and caught my sister in one.
And what should I see on the henhouse door
next morning when I went to gather eggs?
Our children are asleep inside this burrow.
Your dogs would tear them up within an instant.

But dear, they’re human too, you can’t deny that.

Your dogs would. They shall learn the forest paths,
learn how to hunt, how to avoid the hunter.
They shall be cold in winter, wet in storms,
they shall eat mice and rabbits, roam the meadow,
drink from the streams and try to catch the birds.
When they are grown, they’ll put on human skins
and go into the town, but I shall warn them
never to fall in love. Not with a human.

Why can’t you see that I meant you no harm?
I did not know . . . My dear, won’t you forgive me?

I am not tame. I can’t be reasoned with,
and there is no forgiveness in the forest.
Either kill me with that gun you carry,
or go.

          He went. The birches heard him weeping.

(The image is Dancing Fox by Ohara Koson.)

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