After the fox, see
the chase. Feel the theatre.
A grasp at something
with a velvet waist.
Tally-ho: the eternal cry of Brit foxhunters, shouted upon sight of prey. After the Fox introduces itself with the notion of chase, and carries its reader into a long run of binaries. This is an ode to antitheses everywhere: Morning and Nocturnal, Atlantic and Pacific, New York and Los Angeles, nights of black leather and broad-daylight playgrounds. Poets Travis Cebula and Sarah Suzor take on opposing forms of Morning and Nocturnal, conversing in epistolary form, connecting the fox-pursuit with Hesiod’s ode to the cyclical “chase” of night and day. Like the fox-hunters, Cebula and Suzor are verbalizing pursuit; like daylight and midnight, the capture of one within the other — the great prize — is an impossibility.
We see Morning and Nocturnal first in New York City, Morning writing,
I’ll be here,
watching the sun light
the skyline, light
the tallest buildings,
one at a time.
In other words,
the chase is accounted for
but I don’t sleep either.
A narrow island deserves narrow stanzas. In precise language evoking laboured-over letters, Morning and Nocturnal converse through New York. Morning is yellow cabs, park of broken glass, the Hudson; Nocturnal everything neon, the East River. Sometimes the city setting, broken bottle-fights in dark alleys and vinyl played on Brooklyn rooftops, feels a tad hackneyed; however, there are moments of eccentric beauty, too (see sewer steam with a neck “fragile and so unlike / whatever else we’ve stolen”). Morning and Nocturnal sound most like old lovers, caught in inextricable rotation, with all the pains of nostalgia:
I wish for the time I forgot
to dread you.
We were twenty-two and it.
And it was almost dawn.
The arms of the trees were stark
against the sky in the only
park that mattered. We were central.
That’s Nocturnal, who also coins my favourite line of the book: “Every dawn I imagine / the city sinking into you.” Oh, if all cyclical things could be so romantic. The relationship of Morning and Nocturnal is not explicitly gendered; it’s a mix of tenderness and eroticism that eschews the bodily, seeping into the cityscape itself. However, in accordance with the rules of chase, we can’t linger in New York forever.
I want to drive all the way west
in the ocean and drown —
watch the sun dip like Icarus
spit into a vat of melted wax.
And Morning counters with,
When you arrive,
I will have already slept with
And no, I won’t have extra.
Extra or enough.
The language of the West Coast feels more competitive in this conversation. It’s the aftermath after a break-up; both parties are moving on, eager to accomplish something new that will distinguish them as okay, unbroken. Yet there’s always the perpetual yearning for togetherness — applied to the rotation of the world, here, but clearly attributed to human thirst, too — an imagining of a time when “the pull / of a full moon would finally be enough / for us both.” We learn,
It will be blue and finally. It will be an eclipse
as perfect as any polished skull. That’s my conclusion.
It will be open, and it will have a jagged hole
in its back for hindsight, for a soul to get out.
This comes in the penultimate section of the book — it’s telling that the conclusion, a call-and-response interplay of Morning and Nocturnal, is titled “The Table.” When the sun “drags its lame red leg / out of the ocean,” we’re told, “it will make silhouettes a certainty.” This is life after the fox; not the chasing-after, but the time after its capture. The stasis of the table is the stasis of those fully-formed silhouettes — daylight without the loom of shadowy darkness, perhaps? Yet Morning and Nocturnal’s last moment with us is a moment of direct discourse. The idea of a table also suggests community, the breaking of bread, gathering — and as the last line in the book reveals, there’s “a chance to stop / and there’s a chance to keep going.”
Ultimately, as the reader, we’re like the fox itself: picked up by the scruff of this spare, telling language and carried to an eventual ending of choice. There’s an interesting agency implied at the end of this book; arguably, we don’t have a say in the cyclical nature of night and day. But I think there’s an autonomy in finding brief moments of togetherness to linger on (like Morning and Nocturnal do) — moments prized, in this collection, above all others.
- Review of Travis Cebula and Sarah Suzor’s After the Fox by Sarah Brown - April 23, 2015
- Review of Lindsay Hunter’s Ugly Girls by Sarah Brown - April 7, 2015