She stands atop an ancient burial mound
at the edge of a grove of beech trees, shining leaves
mahogany red in the fading light of evening.
Motionless like some rustic sculpture,
her russet coat reflects the bronze sun sinking low
into the welcoming arms of the western fen.
A soft bark of warning to her quarrelsome cubs,
she moves swiftly into the silent shadows
looking for a plump chicken or a young rabbit
for her hungry children.
Along dark paths, across the rickety bridge
mirrored silver in the old canal’s sluggish water.
Facing into the cold east wind so that her prey
may not catch her scent, she lopes across
last year’s stubble into the cherry orchard.
A fugitive Derbyshire Red hen, its rich brown feathers
tipped with black, has scratched out a nest
beneath the hedge and, peering bemused at the
soft padded interloper, dies in an instant
as strong yellow teeth snap her elegant neck.
A farmhouse dog barks and whines, high pitched
as if crying to the moon, the vixen gathers up
her kill and slips noiselessly into the gathering darkness.
Skirting the bramble thicket she moves slowly now,
with smooth prolonged steps like a hunting cat,
towards the weed green greasy pond
where ducks sleep their soft whistling sleep
beneath a pale canopy of thin stars.
Amidst a strangled shrieking, much flapping of wings,
and a great cacophony of quacking, she pounces.
She seizes her victim, and as darkness
overwhelms the fading landscape,
heads for her earth and her hungry kits.
Undeterred by the solid weight of duck and hen
she trots lightly along the woodland path,
lit now by the rising moon and heavy with the scent
of honeysuckle promising sweet nectar to a cloud
of long tongued moths whose feathery antennae
have smelled out a rich nocturnal feast.
The trees sigh and compose themselves for sleep.
Back to the the beech trees the vixen comes,
to the boisterous greeting of her ravenous cubs.
On this bank where now her family plays
she remembers the eerie notes of a horn, blown
as hounds tore her mother into a dozen bloody pieces.
She herself is feared, stoned, shot at and shunned,
all because she must kill to feed her children.
But as the first clear light of dawn appears she sleeps,
and dreams of a new world which will accept
that some must hunt - so all may eat.
Illustration by Liz Naomi