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Good Letters

This poem draws me in with its opening sounds: “Midnight, mid-May.” With those urgent, humming Ms, we are situated in a lush environment thick with potential, growth, and energy. Midnight is a hidden time, an hour when reader and speaker should be asleep. Instead, in this poem we stand alert to a late spring night printed everywhere with presence: fecund plants, scattered proof of providential showers. I love how every word is working to voice that heightened attention. When the dog follows “the wild will / of instinct” in the form of a fox (“his tempter”), we run headlong into the electric charge at the heart of it all. To me, this is a poem about the spirit’s instinct, about the wild will inside of us that longs for God without being conscious of it, without naming it. Reading on, invited out into the expansiveness of the poem’s closing lines, I’m captivated by the paradox this poem places directly in my lap. Here in this small encounter, there’s a larger story: the strange sense of belonging to and loving the earth, while also being deeply alone, bereft even, and longing for completion.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin

“Exile with Fox” by Chelsea Wagenaar

Midnight, mid-May. The earth supple
with three weeks of rain, Queen Anne
lacing the clover, dandelions racing the slope
of hill behind our house. Water pooled
in every nick and hollow bared to sky,
moss slick and greening inside the curbs.
Our dog noses through yards, puddle-pawed,
until suddenly he is gone—bent to the wild will
of instinct, your gasp and halt call
a hundred feet too slow. Still I glimpse
his tempter, the redly skittish sprint of a fox
just one breath quicker. Poor creature—
chased through the city from one exile
into another, some hedge or damp shed
where he might cower, helpless to smut
the giveaway glare of his eyes. What was it
we read once?—that one great love is a thing
to be feared because it makes of all others
a kind of exile. Overhead the stars shiver
in their deep cave. To them the chase must
look like a comet, a match blown out.
No, the wind of breath as it first cups the flame.
O love me, fleet tail. Sweet air, streets
memoried with rain. No, not a match
at all: the cosmos emptied back into itself.


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Chelsea Wagenaar

Chelsea Wagenaar is the author of Mercy Spurs the Bone (Anhinga), winner of the 2013 Philip Levine Prize, selected by Phil Levine. She holds a PhD in English from the University of North Texas and will be a Lilly Postdoctoral Fellow at Valparaiso University. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Michigan Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, and Blackbird.

1 Comment

  1. FSinibaldi on April 1, 2017 at 5:27 am

    Simply that dream.

    In a charming
    walk the
    sound of a
    soft wind
    returns on my
    cheek to describe
    an illusion…

    Francesco Sinibaldi

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