‘Woodcock’ is not a dirty word.
The first I’d ever seen, and alien
to my concept of the citified world.
I saw it sprawled in the sidewalk
beside the Jury Inn,
Swindon’s bleak ornament.
Its blunt wings were closed,
framing the body in the shape of a heart.
The dark breast torn from bones
that were tooth-scraped and splintered,
the vitals plucked from their stems and guy wires
by a muzzle red painted with blood.
The fox did not kill it,
it died by the road.
The meat which remained
looked nothing like even the dark meat of chicken.
There was a stringy vitality there
that brought to my mind a cows skinned haunches.
Rapid twitch muscles our Sunday dinners
could never equal- even if they had not spent
their brief lives hormone pumped,
locked in high cages.
Beside these tatters the fox left,
even a ducks breast looks insubstantial as water.
We humans forget the high cost of flight.
The strenuous, ungraceful glory
of beating down air.
I picked the body up, one-handed,
surprised by the weight it had
after a third was subtracted
by the teeth of a fox
and its back skinned bald by car grill.
Its small head lolled loose on its short thick neck,
the long flesh-toned beak pressed against my arm,
a sword that would not fall.
I ran my finger over blood-groove,
tracing the length of spear-bone
to the delicate, down-soft hollow of the throat,
the armored nest of all lost songs
and thought, ‘I cannot leave you naked
by the side of the road.’
Books in one hand, I held the corpse in my other,
making the treck up the hill that leads to the library,
looking for a place green enough to take my burden.
I am used to seeming mad
in this place where gentleness is madness
and nature is something to be mown down by cars.
I set it beside the roan tree
which roots beside the theater
and has not been knocked down yet.
I left it there, wingspread,
the empty pocket which held a heart once
open to the morning air,
ready for night to come on soft feet and cover
the sight of the fox resuming its meal.