The White Paws

The fox with broken legs has a gift others do not. He removes his paws and they go walking through the woods at night alone. The paws stop to touch pondwater, to brush a blade of saltgrass. They tap the backs of passing beetles in the dark. At dawn, they return to the fox, whispering of rabbits curled in damp caverns, of green oak leaves and sand. The fox listens carefully; he gleans secrets of the world this way. He learns of the earth without lifting his nose from his long, broken limbs. Always, when the paws return they say we missed you, always he listens. How young, how simple they seem beside his face which is mottled and pocked. He gentles the paws like children. He hopes when he dies they live on without him. When his bones rattle and shake in wind, he hopes the paws walk through autumn leaves, pad softly through newfallen snow. He dreams they will drift across a black lake dappled with rain; that, above it, they’ll rise; they’ll glow like four pale moons.


Copyright © 2022 by Dara Yen Elerath. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 16, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I’m interested in the idea of body parts that have their own independent lives. In ‘The White Paws’ a fox sends his limbs out to touch a world he is incapable of interacting with himself. In some ways, this reflects my feelings about the imagination and how it connects us to people and places that are, for one reason or another, inaccessible to us. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, poetry and imagination, like the fox’s paws, often serve as my conduit to the world—they are the parts of myself that touch life even when other aspects remain unable to.”
Dara Yen Elerath