Run, little rabbit, run
The foxes’ claws are nothing to the hounds’
and cars’ baying. When the world’s done
pulling all the white from your cottontail,
they’ll leave you as roadkill for the flies,
floppy as a lost baby’s lost comforter.
The grass swilled from your glassy eyes
will be washed away by the spilling sea.
Run, little rabbit, run faster, run smarter,
before our last chance swings past,
and the future’s rain catches up with us.
“This poem is unusual for me, in that it mostly wrote itself quite quickly, though I suspect my subconscious had been working on it in secret for a few months.
“The original inspiration was a cycle ride on a country lane, where I came across a dead rabbit. This roadkill sight struck me hard and lead most immediately to a different poem, ‘Dead bunny season’ (later published on Apex Poetry, March 2020), exploring age and coming to terms with the likelihood of not having any more children.
“The earworm of the childhood nursery rhyme ‘Run Rabbit Run’ started to play in my head a lot over the following weeks when I was out cycling, and the image of the rabbit being like a limp comforter lodged deep.
“The draft of ‘Run, little rabbit, run’ that I jotted down in November 2019 reflected my growing eco-concerns. But, at first, I wasn’t sure it amounted to enough, perhaps because it wasn’t very long and also because I was comparing it to my earlier poem inspired by the same incident. Did it resonate as strongly as ‘Dead bunny season’?
“If I’m honest, maybe behind that question was the sense that I wasn’t convinced I fully understood myself exactly what every line and word in ‘Run, little rabbit, run’ meant or why it was significant. Whatever changes I tried though, the poem was very firm about rejecting most edits that might pin it down more or extend it into a longer environmental piece. Pretty much each word stood its ground.
“Towards the end of 2019 (and with no idea that covid would soon strike), I was still looking forward to 2020 as the tenth anniversary of my first published poetry collection Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory, 2010). Because of this, ten lines became a personal formal constraint for putting together what went on to become my Overton Poetry Prize 2020-winning pamphlet, exploring the range, variety and intensity possible within such a condensed free-verse form. Ten Lines or More Than Just Love Notes featured love and loss – yes, some of a romantic kind, but also parent-child/child-parent love, and my love for, and losses suffered by, the natural world, as we face climate change and vast numbers of species at risk of extinction.
“Clearly, ‘Run, little rabbit, run’ already fitted the 10-line constraint for my new pamphlet, a pamphlet that needed a closing poem. Around this point, I realised that although the eco-element might have been foremost in my thoughts, ‘Run, little rabbit, run’ also has both a feminist awareness of potential predators and mothering sub-currents. Placed at the end of the pamphlet, this aspect of ‘Run, little rabbit, run’ came out more noticeably than when I was considering on its own.
“Whether the poem works – on its own and/or in the pamphlet context– is, of course, ultimately up to individual readers. But, as a writer, I was finally happy (or as happy as I can ever feel with my own writing!). Ironically, this is perhaps because of the ambiguities and space for different readings that I had previously wanted to smooth out but which, in the end, helped it to span across and bring together the different concerns in Ten Lines or More Than Just Love Notes.”
Sarah James/Leavesley is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Her latest pamphlet is Ten Lines or More Than Just Love Notes (Loughborough University), and her latest full collection is Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic (Verve Poetry Press, 2022). Website: www.sarah-james.co.uk.