Changelings

Fox Mask

Fox masks, wolf masks, I try them on
as if I were a savage.
Long ago I realized
from scratchings traced
on cave walls
or from dim ethnologies,
from collections hidden
in musty storerooms or museum basements,
from phrenological attempts to see
the beast in man,
how much of beast persisted.
Here was I
cursed by these foxes and their kin the wolves
to see them everywhere.

If my one-time friend the artist showed me a picture painted
of a closed garden
there was sure to be a fox who peered
from among the flowers,
a fox even the artist had not seen.
I have been cursed
for that as well, the artist crying he had not
seen the fox, he had not painted it,
but there it was
among the innocent flowers hiding
or among trees
or hidden
in a wheat field’s tawny light.

Once seen, the artist
could not unsee it
though his brush was clean
of all intent;
the creature grew
just from my trembling fingertip until
by no subterfuge of the imagination could we
ignore it and forget.
For reasons plain my friend
chose to go elsewhere with his canvases.
Why blame him?
The faces sprang
from some
uncanny pleasurable perception.

I saw them in the boles of ancient trees,
in shadows dancing upon walls
I am at last aware
that there exists
changelings
born from a fourth dimension lurking
somewhere about
and I am one of these.

I see our blighted
formalized
pollution-filled
landscape of old cans,
bottles, and oil drums,
as if it held
ghostly potentials:
that the smiling fox
who was
lives in the shrubbery,
that the buffalo wolf still howls
upon the snowy hilltop
summoning
a nonexistent pack
for hunting lost
among old skulls
the prairie grasses cover.

My childhood was preoccupied with dreams
of how to free all animals immured
in shabby local zoos,
in boxes foul,
in crates from which
the heaven sweeping hawks
still scanned their wide dominions
helplessly.
So is it now. The fox, the wolf, the coyote
the last
contenders against traps and poison
hold with grim teeth
slowly retreating
into waste lands where only coyotes run.
I am born of these,

their changeling.
Who first rocked
my cradle
or what wild thing left me
upon my parents’ doorstep
is a mystery
although
through this means I can see
faces where faces are not
and I know
a nature still
as time is still
beyond the reach of man.

You may search scarp and butte,
read Indian pictographs
on up-reared mesas,
but you will not find
or trace
more of me than is found
in two poised ears
behind my mother’s picture
or
on some rain-lashed night
a voice that barks
brief syllables
may be
at last my own.

from Notes of an Alchemist by Loren Eiseley

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