Richard Siken

War of the Foxes



Two rabbits were chased by a fox, of all the crazy shit in the world, and the fox kept up the chase,
circling the world until the world caught up with them in some broken-down downtown metropolis.
Inside the warren, the rabbits think fast. Pip touches the only other rabbit listening.

        Pip: We’re doomed.
        Flip: Oh Pip!
        Pip: I know where you can hide.
        Flip: Are you sure?
        Pip: Yes. Here, hide inside me.

This is the story of Pip and Flip, the bunny twins. We say that once there were two and now there is
only one. When the fox sees Pip run past, he won’t know that the one is inside the other. He’ll think
Well, there’s at least one more rabbit in that warren. But no one’s left. You know this and I know this.
Together we trace out the trail away from doom. There isn’t hope, there is a trail. I follow you.

When a rabbit meets a rabbit, one takes the time to tell the other this story. The rabbits then agree
there must be two rabbits, at least two rabbits, and that in turn there is a trace. I am only repeating
what I heard. This is one love. There are many loves but only one war.

        Bird 1: This is the same story.
        Bird 2: No, this is the rest of the story.

Let me tell you a story about war. A man found his life to be empty. He began to study Latin. 

Latin was difficult for the man to understand. I will study Latin, even though it is difficult, said the man.

Yes, even if it is difficult.

Let me tell you a story about war. A man had a dream about a woman and then he met her. The man
had a dream about the woman’s former lover. The former lover was sad, he wanted to fight. The
man said to the woman I will have to comfort your former lover or I will always be fighting him in my dreams.

Yes, said the woman. You will need to comfort him, or we will never be finished with this.

Let me tell you a story about war. A fisherman’s son and his dead brother sat on the shore. That is my
country and this is your country and the line in the sand is the threshold between them
, said the dead brother.
Yes, said the fisherman’s son.

You cannot have an opponent if you keep saying yes.

        Bird 1: This is the wrong story.
        Bird 2: All stories are the wrong story when you are impatient.

Let me tell you a story about war. A man says to another man Can I tell you something? The other man
says No. A man says to another man There is something I have to tell you. No, says the other man. No, you

        Bird 1: Now we are getting somewhere.
        Bird 2: Yes, yes we are.



Let me tell you a story about war:

A boy spills a glass of milk and his father picks him up by the back of the shirt and throws him
against the wall. You killed my wife and you can’t even keep a glass on the table. The wife had died of
sadness, by her own hand. The father walks out of the room and the room is almost empty.

The road outside the house lies flat on the ground. The ground surrenders.

The father works late. The dead wife’s hand makes fishsticks while the boy sits in the corner where
he fell. The fish in the fishsticks think to themselves This is not what we meant to be.

Its roots in the ground and its branches in the air, a tree is pulled in two directions.

The wife has a dead hand. This is earlier. She is living and her dead hand feeds her pills that don’t
work. The boy sleeps on the roof or falls out of trees. The father works late. The wife looks out the
window and thinks Not this.

The boy is a bird, bad bird. He falls out of trees.



Let me tell you a story about war:

The fisherman’s son serves drinks to sailors. He stands behind the bar. He listens closely for news of
his dead brother. The sailors are thirsty. They drink rum. Tell me a story, says the fisherman’s son.

“There is nothing interesting about the sea. The water is flat, flat and calm, it seems a sheet of glass.
You look at it, the more you look at it the more you feel like you are looking into your own head,
which is a stranger’s head, empty. We listen to the sound with our equipment. I have learned to
understand this sound. When you look there is nothing, with the equipment there is sound. We sit in
rows and listen down the tunnels for the song. The song has red words in it. We write them down on
sheets of paper and pass them along. Sometimes there is noise and sometimes song and often there is
silence, the long tunnel, the sea like glass…

        You are a translator, says the fisherman’s son.
        Yes, says the sailor.
        And the sound is the voice of the enemy.
        Yes, yes it is.



Let me tell you a story about war:

They went to the museum and wandered the rooms. He saw a painting and stood in front of it for
too long. It was a few minutes before she realized he had gotten stuck. He was stuck looking at a
painting. She stood next to him, looking at his face and then the face in the painting. What do you see?
she asked. I don’t know, he said. He didn’t know. She was disappointed, then bored. He was looking at
a face and she was looking at her watch. This is where everything changed. There was now a distance
between them. He was looking at a face but it might as well have been a cabbage or a sugar beet.
Perhaps it was something about yellow near pink. He didn’t know how to say it. Years later he still
didn’t know how to say it, and she was gone.




Let me tell you a story about love:


There was a place on the floor where they could lie together, on the floor together, backs pressed to

the carpet, where they could look out the window together and see only the tops of the trees. They

would do this. They would lie on the floor and say things like Now we are in the country! or Oh, what a far

away place this is! Then they would stand up and look out the window the way they usually did, the

houses reappearing in the window frame.


She had a soft voice and strong hands. When she sang she would seem too large for the room and

she would play guitar and sing which would make his chest feel huge. Sometimes he would touch her

knee and smile. Sometimes she would touch his face and close her eyes.



Fox rounds the warren but there are no bunnies, jumps up with claws but there are no bunnies,

moves down the road but there are no bunnies. There are no bunnies. He chases a bird instead. All

wars are the same war. The bird flies away.




The fisherman’s son knows nothing worth stealing. Perhaps, perhaps.


He once put a cat in a cardboard box but she got out anyway. He once had a brother he lost to the

sea. Brother, dead brother, who speaks to him in dreams. These are a few things worth saying.


He knows that when you snap a mast it’s time to get a set of oars or learn how to breathe

underwater. Rely on one thing too long and when it disappears and you have nothing… well, that’s

just bad planning. It’s embarrassing, to think it could never happen.


A man does work. A machine can, too. Power of agency, agent of what. This is a question we might

ask. An agent is a spy or not. A spy is a promise to God, hidden where only God can find it.


The agents meet at the chain link fence and tell each other stories. A whisper system. To testify

against yourself is an interesting thing, a sacrifice. Some people do it. Some people find money in the

street but you cannot rely on it. The fisherman’s son is at the fence, standing there, waiting to see if

he is useful.


You cannot get in the way of anyone’s path to God. You can, but is does no good. Every agent

knows this. Some say God is where we put our sorrow. God says Which one of you fuckers can get to me first?


You cannot get in the way of anyone’s path to happiness, it also does no good. The problem is

figuring out which part is the path and which part is the happiness.


It’s a blessing, every day someone shows up at the fence. And when no one shows up, a different

kind of blessing. In the wrong light anyone can look like a darkness.


Richard Siken
"War of the Foxes (i)" appeared in State of the Union: Fifty Political Poems (Wave Books, 2008).