Following the many elbows of the Yarra,
taking the racing line,
retracing the route to the Toorak school that did not teach,
but bequeathed a tie,
I was blinded by the nostalgia of a life half lived,
and did not see the vixen spirit herself across the road
just in time to feel the bite of my tyres.
There was no time to brake.
My foot was half on, half off, the accelerator when
I felt the shock of her through my steering wheel,
heard her cry.
I could have kept driving into the night—
the road was dead, the streets asleep—
but could not forget that time when,
coming down Brown Mountain in a Toyota,
I killed a goanna and kept going,
lacked the decency to drag the carcass off the road,
and how I carried that sin in my glove compartment still.
Stepped out into the early morning,
the air cold enough to turn breathe to steam,
and stood by the taillights of my old 318,
watched the fox lie in the glare of a street light,
half a world away from her natural home,
and felt something close to pity.
Waited until a fleeting shadow—at first an eclipse—
grew smaller, darker, then manifested as a wedge-tailed eagle
that landed on the double-white line without a sound,
wing tips sweeping the leaves from the blue-black road.
The eagle was telling me she was watching me
watch the fox, so, now I knew I had no choice.
I had to act.
I left my car behind,
purring its soft red cloud of carcinogens,
and heard my boots strike the bitumen
as I drew close enough to see my animus
reflected in her animal eye.
The vixen was breathing—more like panting—
and unable to move more than her head.
I reached down to touch her burnt orange fur,
but she had seen enough of my kind
on her backyard travels
and, throwing her head up, caught my thumb
in the trap of her razor teeth
What happened next surprised us all.
Without speaking, I took off my old school tie
to bind my bleeding hand,
walked back to the car, popped the boot
and came back to the fox with the wheel jack
swinging low from my good hand,
then let that hand rise and fall
beneath the shadow of the street light,
and listened to the sound of steel splintering bone
while the eagle—with a sweep of mighty wings—
lifted herself from the road to seek solace in the sky.
This poem was recently published by Australian Book Review for their Poem of the Week podcast. It is taken from my upcoming poetry collection, Year of the Wasp, which will be published by Hunter Publishers.
You can hear the poem at ABR here.