London. The grimy lilac softness

Of an April evening. Me

Walking over Chalk Farm Bridge

On my way to the tube station.

A new father – slightly light-headed

With the lack of sleep and the novelty.

Next, this young fellow coming towards me.


I glanced at him for the first time as I passed him

Because I noticed (I couldn’t believe it)

What I’d been ignoring.


Not the bulge of a small animal

Buttoned into the top of his jacket

The way colliers used to wear their whippets –

But  its actual face. Eyes reaching out

Trying to catch my eyes – so familiar!

The huge ears, the pinched, urchin expression –

The wild confronting stare, pushed through fear,

Between the jacket lapels.

                                                           “It’s a fox-cub!”

I heard my own surprise as I stopped.

He stopped. “Where did you get it? What

Are you going to do with it?”

                                                           A fox-cub

On the hump of Chalk Farm Bridge!


“You can have him for a pound”. “But

Where did you find it? What will you do with it?”

“Oh, somebody’ll buy him. Cheap enough

At a pound”. And a grin.

                                                           What I was thinking

Was – what would you think? How would we fit it

Into our crate of space? With the baby?

What would you make of its old smell

And its mannerless energy?

And as it grew up and began to enjoy itself

What would we do with an unpredictable,

Powerful, bounding fox?

The long-mouthed, flashing temperament?

That necessary nightly twenty miles

And that vast hunger for everything beyond us?

How would we cope with its cosmic derangements

Whenever we moved?


The little fox peered past me at other folks,

As this one and at that one, then at me.

Good luck was all it needed.

Already past the kittenish

But the eyes still small,

Round, orphaned-looking, woebegone

As if with weeping. Bereft

Of the blue milk, the toys of feather and fur,

The den life’s happy dark. And the huge whisper

Of the constellations

Out of which Mother had always returned.

My thoughts felt like big, ignorant hounds

Circling and sniffing around him.

                                                           Then I walked on

As if out of my own life.

I let that fox-cub go. I tossed it back

Into the future

Of a fox-cub in London and I hurried

Straight on and dived as if escaping

Into the Underground. If I had paid,

If I had paid that pound and turned back

To you, with that armful of fox –

If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox

Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage –

I would not have failed the test. Would you have failed it?

But I failed. Our marriage had failed.