Dorothy Gilbert
Fox Woman

Thoughts on two prints by Yoshitoshi and Hiroshige

She turns away. Her little boy, his hand
on the brown train of her kimono, stares
at her comfortable back, her swirling garment,
his face all trust. No shadows there, no knowledge;
stay, he says. Play. In that warm room
of trunks and screens, rectangles, floral silks,
with only a tumbling vine to hint at vagary
in nature, how's he to know
life's to be one goodbye after another?

Here she has lived all these years, in this house, with this husband,
a human being. He rescued her, a vixen.
Her young fur's sheen had caught the eye of hunters
in dead orange grasses. She led them, looped them,
did her best to dizzy them, but they wore her down,
closed in, when suddenly he rode up,
scattered them all, and scooped her to his saddle.
Shaking, weak with gratitude, she turned
into a woman; that
was the real ambush. Oh, he was stunned
by her beauty, but not long; a quick man with his instincts,
he knew her gift.

At home, he gave her silks, paintings, even a small dog,
and a koto. She learned to play
brilliantly; the notes hung like fruit
above their heads. He'd praise her, tell her stories
of human history, wars, treacheries, honor
beyond death. He'd guess her thought
and praise it, too, touching her shoulder.
A pair of hunting spirits, they started thoughts
from the mind's dim thickets, together sensing
paths, traces . . . He stroked her hair, her stomach;
she leaped; one animal, they spoke
the speech. In that space, that den
of themselves they'd hollowed out of nothing,
what were names, labels, captor and captive?

Years passed. The son grew, walked. And then, what whiff
woke her? Swamp spring, perhaps; newborns' damp fur,
the salt of it; sweet earth,
sweet grass? Histories of sex, dusty or fresh; odors
of the movement of blood; the pulse of fear
in the doomed? Fox-barks in the swamps, the phosphorescence
of her kind, the nights, the reeds, the crying?

The part of her
still in the room is woman; robe, obi, hair
dressed in splendid loops. Past the threshhold

her face is lost to us. Behind a screen
her profile's shadow lengthens, strangely proportioned:
fox nose, fox ears, fox leg and paw—

She goes to kitsune bi, the glow in the night meadow,
the foxes all communal, casting their fatal light,
luring a man from his safe way on the road to town,
drawing him into the marshes of longing and terror
and of course, loss.

with apologies to Bertha Lum