2024 Second Place


by Paul McDonald

Fox crawled inside my shed to die,
shunned the nosy stars one night when
death hung heavy on its haunches,
its russet withers, dipping fox head.

That night it knew, as pigs do at the
slaughterhouse, too ashamed of death to
let the world see: anyone but me, who found
it strewn among cool March cobwebs.
Fox lay on the floor beside my rusty
racing bike, the chest of unused tools
my dad bequeathed. He’d have sympathised
with Fox, fled a ward himself to die at home,
watched only by my mom and me: him in his
orthopaedic bed, bold as a broken hammer.

Deflating Fox collapsed like a parachute
of fur on bones, outfoxed and leaking fluids
to pool the floor, seep under boxes and
half-empty tins, one I kicked aside to find
a clot of maggots: blind life seething,
mocking Fox, its peeled lips, strips of khaki teeth
snarling at its own grin, enduring death in private.

I stole a second look before the council
double-bagged it. I’m pleased it chose my shed to die.
Fox up-close made foxes a reality; a broken fox
to bring the rest to life: the lovely lives we miss