Work by Katharyn Howd Machan
Storm’s coming. Fox feels it
in every inch from nose to tail.
Hard winds. Fast sudden rain.
Every gold leaf left on a tree
torn, forced down, pummeled, trampled.
October’s never known such weather:
crickets still chorusing joy of night,
days a caress of sun-soft air
and raspberries still brightening.
Fox has lived long enough to know
Halloween shouldn’t be deep summer,
long dark pretending to be short
as though white solstice weren’t only
just over seven weeks away. But
tonight the Arctic meets the Gulf,
heaven and hell and hell and heaven
moving this world to have to see
how wrench of winds so swiftly turns
what’s civilized to chaos.
Fox puts on a thick blue coat
and Fox recites a poem of prayer:
May all who love and should be loved
escape this time.
Fox knows it.
Knows the sky can tear itself
apart into a thousand demons
white as God’s forgiving breath
where air meets ice and tongue.
She’s lived it,
knows the edge of earth and sea
and how a beach becomes a wave
tearing all the shells and sand
with teeth of salt and moon.
Fox travels away sometimes
when winter mocks her name,
but this year her kits are ready
to lick cold flakes with warm
red tongues. Mother
of who might change the world
she stays here
On the Night the Moon Was Full
Her paws itched to run
but she saw the circle full of snow
red as her tongue up in the sky
and knew her feet could not carry her
fast and far enough to flee
cold flakes falling, piling, changing
her world to death’s white grin.
Used to be, she’d venture out
no matter wind or dark or ice.
Moon her guide to find good food.
Moon her mouth, her eyes.
But now she fears years’ aching weight.
Better to lie still and hungry
than be a frozen body mounding
crystals in a strange far place
beyond light’s longest reach.
Cold winds. Dark winds.
Fox ventures from her den
as though a dream has wakened her
past belly’s hunger, paws’ black dance.
Just within the forest’s edge
the great bird swoops and settles.
Golden gaze meets topaz eyes.
Fox knows gift when gift is given:
creatures of the night at peace,
white tips of tail and feathers.
“The light was different, cold and bright–winter light.”
–Emily Winfield Martin in Snow and Rose
Fox rouses from autumn.
She’s become complacent, perhaps,
bright leaves echoing her warm fur,
blood pulsing safely underneath.
Hunters sleeping, her young ones grown,
mate a whisper among black forests
she’s been certain will send him home.
Tonight, though, high moon is edged
with darkness beyond stars’ reach.
It sings to her–oh, mocking Goddess–
old fairy tales of red and white
that send her leaping wide and far
within the loneliness of snow
that names a first and fearsome night.
Where the Tree Once Grew
Sing mercy! Fox cries out,
flowers flowing from her mouth
like a gift in a fairy tale.
Just above her aching eyes
Crow holds a fragile twig
in a beak tight with years of anger
at being mostly shadow flying
on the edges of real creatures’ dreams.
Somewhere else he keeps a nest
he fills with silver sparkle.
Fox knows nothing of his world
except his claws, his feathers.
Join me! she pleads again,
blossoms rising through the air
Crow may or may not dare to taste
if he decides to open.
for Lynn Shoemaker
He’s back again, the rare black fox
that leaps into Fox’s winter dreams
as though she’s a tiny shivering mouse
fleeing in tunnels under snow’s crust.
Her father, surely, translated to myth,
gone so long ago even his ghost
plays pianissimo on pale and dark keys.
Majestic being! Around his eyes
all the brilliance a world can need.
Fox, so small and trembling,
finds the journey her soul seeks.
Climb through ice and risk exposure:
black, black, his fur a promise
she can take his dead hands’ music
and turn it into poems.
Katharyn Howd Machan, author of 39 collections of poetry (most recently, in 2020, A Slow Bottle of Wine, winner of the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Competition) has lived in Ithaca, New York, since 1975 and, now as a full professor, has taught Writing at Ithaca College since 1977. After many years of coordinating the Ithaca Community Poets and directing the national Feminist Women’s Writing Workshops, Inc., she was selected to be Tompkins County’s first poet laureate. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, textbooks, and stage productions, and she has edited three thematic anthologies, most recently, with Split Oak Press, a tribute collection celebrating the inspiration of Adrienne Rich. In 2018 FutureCycle Press published her Selected Poems and selected it as their Best Book of the Year.
“Snow’s Coming” was previously published in The Kerf.
“Owl Moon” was previously published in Blueline.