Never Underestimate a Fox

Nine-Tailed Fox
Nine-Tailed Fox

for the man who gave himself
the street-name “Tonto”

At a loss for everything
but words,
I’m writing in the sunlight
of a sidewalk cafe
when someone falls
over an empty chair and
lands on the table
in front of me.

I’m as drunk on language
as he is on booze.

A foxtail hangs from a leather cord
at his throat, like a necktie
over his T-shirt,
and when I ask him about it,
he tells me his story.

He killed the fox,
and then his mother said to him,
You took the life
of a free and beautiful animal
so you could feel like a bigger man.
Now the spirit of the fox
will make you pay.

He believed his mother.

I believe her too.
And beneath her words,
I hear the soft, alluring
voice of earth:

I dreamt each one of you,
you are just as I wish —
Go now,
walk your path,
and live.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger, January 2012

I Don’t Know How the Story Ends …

According to the summer solstice entry in my 1993 journal, I was writing outside the Honeybun Cafe in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, having just engaged in yet another futile job-application exercise, when the man fell onto the table. After he told me his story, he said, “Why don’t you stop writing that shit and write about street people?” I said, “OK,” wrote down in his own words what he’d told me, titled it “Tonto’s Story,” and handed over the paper to him.

He threw the paper in my face, saying “this is shit,” and lunged across the table, grabbing my left arm. I’m not sure what I did then, but it must have been instantaneous and violent because in my next memory-picture he is lying face-down on the sidewalk, bleeding. Other customers rushed over to help him, and I decided it was time for me to go.

I stayed away from downtown Victoria for the next few weeks, and when I went back, I didn’t see the man with the foxtail. All I saw was a bedroll on the sidewalk and above it graffiti chalked onto the brick wall: “We all need gone Tonto.”

I hope the man with the foxtail didn’t oblige by disappearing into an early grave. I hope he left Victoria alive — the way I left after three months, because I was so not finding a place for myself. I hope he’s still out there somewhere: staying away from cities, breathing, walking the earth.

Note: An earlier version of the fox poem was published on “Return to Mago” 30 September 2012. The image of the nine-tailed fox—symbol of female sexuality and intellectuality, and immortal companion of Mago, the pre-patriarchal Great Goddess of East Asia—is from The Classic of Mountains and Seas.

Published by

Harriet Ann Ellenberger

writer, editor, translator; co-founded the journal "Sinister Wisdom"

8 thoughts on “Never Underestimate a Fox”

  1. I shared on Google +. You should add a share button for Twitter. I am on there more now that I deactivated my fb account. I’ve found a whole new audience there. It’s great to find you here. I miss the contact with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Donna, me too, I miss the contact. Will e-mail you. And will add a Twitter share button; thanks for the tip. (Writing is easier, not to mention more satisfying, than learning how to get what you wrote into circulation.)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I wasn’t so sure about that poem … you encourage me because I trust your judgment in these things.


  2. I just re read this wonderful poem and when I got to the working notes or whatever they are I ended up laughing hysterically. You have NO idea how funny you are! What a story… the poem is enriched by what comes after it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sara. If I start knowing I’m being funny, I won’t be funny anymore, so I’m erasing from memory what you just said.


      1. My favorite line is I dreamt each one of you–and I love that whole paragraph. Thinking of each of us as having been dreamt by earth, which of course we are, is so good to hear.


        1. I don’t know where “I dreamt each one of you” came from — it felt like I’d accidentally tuned into a radio channel, one that only broadcast true things.


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