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Poem: "Tod Fox and Friends" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "Tod Fox and Friends"

This poem came from the October 1, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from siege.  It also fills the "It is the way of my people: Traditions" square on my 8-13-13 card for the Ladiesbingo fest.  This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  It belongs to the series The Steamsmith.


"Tod Fox and Friends"


Maryam Smith ran out of materials
because the process of experimentation
went through them much faster
than the process of refining or building
things based on established blueprints.

She went out with her valet Ned
and shopped in the usual places,
only to discover that what she was in want of
was somehow ... not available today.
Or tomorrow.  Or possibly next week, good sir.

Maryam frowned at the delay.
She had a deadline, in terms of the contest
between herself and George Cavendish
on the matter of tiny lights.

"I begin to suspect a conspiracy,"
she said, for Cavendish and his friend
William Percy were well connected in London.
They might have dropped a word here and there
for merchants to hinder her efforts.

Then again, they might not have said anything --
the merchants could have simply overheard the gossip
and decided on their own to back the horse
that wasn't black and grade and also a mare.

"Be that as it may, m'sir," Ned said evenly,
"what do you propose to do about it?"

Maryam winked at him.
"I think it's time for me
to borrow a page from
Tod Fox and friends,"
she said, "if you don't mind
lending me your second-best suit."

Ned was a well-trained valet.
Only the very corners of his mouth
turned up at the idea of such mischief.
"As you say, m'sir, but allow me to suggest
that Connie Rabbit might be even less looked for."

Maryam sighed,
but admitted that he was right.
So instead she asked Rori
for the loan of a dress.

Rori stared at her with huge eyes --
for Maryam preferred to take a man's role
and dress the part accordingly --
but she willingly handed over her clothes.

It took some adjustment,
because Maryam was tall and slim
while Rori was, to put it politely,
well-favored in front.
A few handfuls of clean wool
soon resolved the problem.

As they worked, Maryam told the story
to Rori as her mother had told it to her:
how Tod Fox and Connie Rabbit
fooled Richard Lion into thinking
that he was about to marry a great lady,
all the while Tod listened to state secrets
and Connie filled her pockets with royal silverware.

"I say, m'sir, that's a rather rude story!"
Rori exclaimed.  "Stealing and all isn't right."

"I know," said Maryam,
"but when it's steal or starve,
people do what they must to survive.
The tales of Tod Fox and his friends
are handed down from the slave days.
It's a tradition to tell these stories to children,
because sometimes we still have need of stealth."

"I see," Rori said in a quieter voice,
for she was Irish and Catholic
in a country that favored neither,
so she knew something about going hungry
or else making hard choices.

Of course Maryam actually had plenty of money;
it was just that people didn't want to take it.
There was no need for theft,
only for trickery.

When they did not know whom they were selling to,
the merchants were perfectly happy to hand over
all manner of necessary supplies
to the charlady Connie and her cousin Tod.
What were two more dark faces
sent out shopping by their busy masters
in a sea of bustling servants?

So Maryam got her goods
and headed home again,
her hands and Ned's alike
both laden with boxes and bags.

Gratefully she stripped off the dress
and the petticoats and the wool padding
that had made her chest itch and sweat.
It felt wonderful to rinse herself clean
and put on her own masculine clothes again.

Then Maryam took herself and her supplies
out to the lab and resumed her work.
Behind her, Rori puttered away,
stowing the materials in their proper places.

Maryam smiled, and quietly began reciting
another story about Tod Fox and friends.

* * *

Notes:

Black horses are considered unlucky in some countries including India, Hungary and Spain.

A grade horse is one without a pedigree, whose parentage is partly or wholly unknown or unregistered.

The Uncle Remus tales comprise a collection of stories told by slaves, animal allegories handed down from ancestral traditions and adapted to incorporate the experiences of slavery.  You can read the stories online in their original dialect.  This blend of African, Native American, and other folklore is a distinctive cultural product of slavery in America. 

What you see in this poem with "Tod Fox and friends" is the result of the same process occurring in Britain.  Many of the plots remain the same, along with the emphasis on trickster figures.  The nomenclature and local color, however, draw on British roots instead of American ones.  There are many allegories and fables that feature talking animals in European history.

Connie Rabbit comes from Br'er Rabbit and other sources.  Br'er Rabbit is a trickster from American folklore with roots in African, Cherokee, and other cultures.  The name Connie is a riff on "coney" as slang for a rabbit, which has some vulgar correlations as well.  Rabbits and hares appear through world mythology.

Tod Fox comes from the Reynard tales among others.  Reynard is an anthropomorphic fox trickster.  The name Reynard is primarily French or German; British use typically goes with Tod for a fox.  You can read more about foxes in popular culture.

Richard Lion comes from Richard the Lionhearted and heraldic references.  Cultural depictions of lions are associated with nobility.  Leo is another name commonly used for anthropomorphic lions; Richard is a more distinctively British usage.

Irish Catholic oppression is part of Irish and British history.  In nether-England it's bad, but not as bad as in historic-England.  There's still enough to give Rori an appreciation of the Tod Fox folklore shared by Maryam.

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Comments
From: technoshaman Date: October 5th, 2013 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Extra layer of meaning, perhaps unintentional but fits anyway... Connie Rabbit, "Con" meaning to trick someone with words...

It really bugs me when the fat cats, not content with honest profit, see fit to further rig the game.... it does my heart good to see Maryam manage to winkle honest behaviour out of them...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 5th, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Extra layer of meaning, perhaps unintentional but fits anyway... Connie Rabbit, "Con" meaning to trick someone with words... <<

*laugh* Oh, good one! That was unintentional, so thanks for pointing it out.

>> It really bugs me when the fat cats, not content with honest profit, see fit to further rig the game.... <<

Agreed. It's a very bad habit.

>> it does my heart good to see Maryam manage to winkle honest behaviour out of them... <<

Yay! I'm glad you enjoyed this.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: October 6th, 2013 04:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Brilliant! Richard Lion, indeed. (That's the only one of the three names that I caught on to before reading the notes -- sometimes bears are a little slow.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 6th, 2013 04:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> Brilliant! Richard Lion, indeed. <<

I'm glad you enjoyed this so much!

>> (That's the only one of the three names that I caught on to before reading the notes -- sometimes bears are a little slow.) <<

It's okay. Bruin Bear is another of the historic characters, by the way.
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