Thursday, September 23, 2010

Coyote Grief, or How I Became A Poet

"Coyotes are incredibly adaptable," Gary San Julian reports. "They can switch from eating small mammals, including mice and voles, to dining on melons and apples and berries. They eat garbage. Some prey on domestic dogs and house cats. Coyotes are comfortable hunting on their own—catching small rodents in newly cut hayfields, for instance—and they also cooperate with each other to take larger prey, like deer."

The basic unit is a family group: an adult male and female, plus any grown offspring that have not yet dispersed into territories of their own. "Coyotes don't form large packs the way that wolves do," says San Julian. "A typical family group may number four of five individuals."

Coyotes have no problem coping with suburban sprawl…

exerpt of an article written by Charles Fergus based on his interviews with Gary San Julian, Ph.D., a professor of wildlife resources and an extension wildlife specialist in the College of Agriculture at Penn State.

Coyote Grief
(How I Became A Poet)

In the long ago, before this new world overran the stories, I would run with coyotes beneath the stars that hung much closer then. I had power then, I could fly. So could they. There were paths of light on which we loped, paralleling our brothers the wolves. For me the wolves were too serious, and I stayed with coyotes for the laughter. Sometimes when the light was right and the moon hung closest of all, in those days, in the deep dark of the nights of those days, we would gather and sing among ourselves all the old stories we knew. Those stories were fresh and new then. Time itself is different now.

Sometimes the night stills,
hardens, and the tight stars choke
and fall to flat earth,
dead embers. The sky
is no longer black, dim gray.

It was far away that it happened, in a drier land than here though of many rivers from nearby mountains. We gathered on the plateau to watch the world we knew die. I still don’t understand it. The earth shook and our hearts shattered. I stood and sang one last time in the way I could then, deep throated and free, not only bass but up through the tenor range, pure and open.

Coyote's sadness
is deeper than hope.

The sky fell. I don’t know what this means, but that’s what it did. I noticed her then standing in the circle, magnificent, of a different shape and color, and singing with higher notes than I can. She took my last song and my last breath. I have not sung those songs since and she howled beyond belief while my shattered heart turned to dust in my demise. The others wandered off to the ends of the world. She remained there solitary in her grief, breathing the stale air of that old, dead world.

She snuffs at dead stars amazed,
confused, wants to put
them back, cannot reach
that high, to the dim flat sky.
They won't burn again.

Me, I can never go back to the place where I died, to the land with no stars and that dead sun. I dare not if I could. Coyote, she holds vigil there, unable to go, unable to die, unable now even to sing. She tries to sing, but she has no voice any more. Her voice faded with the stars that fell to earth. As for me, my power is inside now, in my reborn heart. My power is no longer visible. So are my new words found inside me, though they are evoked, called forth by the things of this young world. They come rapidly lately from the mystery inside me and I write them down faithfully as fast as I can. Time is short. However, the music that we sang is still lost to me and to them too. That is why though the coyotes still howl, that howl is no longer a song but now more like a yodel.

This prose is fresh. The poem was written in February, 2009. If you count syllables you will see, as with most of my recent poetry, that I use Haiku syllable counts for my lines, 5-7-5, repeat.

If you are interested in reading the work of other poets who participate in the Big Tent you can find their links or their work posted here: Big Tent Postings


  1. Christopher,

    To me from the limited works or yours that I have read, this is one profound poetic piece of prose. This one of yours is my favorite so far.

    I have observed small packs of Coyote in the San Fernando Valley. I immediately noticed they have a more diverse, complex and robust or larger language with sound than any wolf or canine I have ever listened to. With many distinguishable quiet yip-yipe-hip-hipe and multi-toned whines.

  2. Thank you for saying so. Many view coyote a pest. The Penn State article I quoted pointed out further down that the eradication of Pennsylvania coyote pests reached something like 20,000 coyotes destroyed in 2005. The populations of coyotes grew that year even so. Coyotes are resilient animals. I didn't know that coyotes lived in Pennsylvania.

  3. Christopher, you have written something that should become a classic, told to children around the fire. Insensate destruction of species has always been part of human history. When will we ever learn?

  4. I was captivated by your story. It certainly has the magic of legend.

  5. Vivinfrance, Derrick, thank you for visiting and leaving word for me. This story developed itself. I feel quite like I recorded something already there with my work being the care I took not to screw it up. I don't feel much like I made anything up. Only the flow and arrangement are my own.

  6. There is so much about Coyotes we don't know. I suppose the mystery keeps us interested in the species. I found your prose very beautiful and the poetry is wonderful too.

    Haibun: seedy deeds

  7. Gautami, coyotes are the stars of legends coming from the American First Nations. Coyote roughly holds the place of Hermes or Mercury, being admired as the Divine Thief and Trickster. Coyote also holds the position of The Fool as depicted in Tarot and is a curious mixture of cleverness and blindness.

    Some of the most delightful stories are told of Coyote. My story here definitely is too sad for that tradition. Coyote rarely presides over the end of any world, though he often finds himself a maker of his own predicament.

    As such, Coyote presides quite precisely over my own life.

  8. I both saw coyotes while I read this and did not, I saw you.

    Love the star imagery, the dimensions changing. Thought of those sticky flat stars teachers award, and then the very real three dimensional ones.

    Your ability to write 5-7-5 makes my head hurt. You are made of very mathematical stuff.

    I remembered too my walk with my daughter, when was that? In the late winter? Could it have been last year? And us singing through the forest magical floating coyote, as though it were prophetic in a way, as though your story already existed, time being a different thing now, and we searched out a bit of your magic.


  9. Beautiful work, Christopher. I could see this as a book with beautiful illustrations. Think about it. Very poignant work.

  10. this is great! i love "wolves were too serious." it gives us great love for the narrator right from the beginning, too.

  11. Erin, we are on a journey. There is no question. Thank you for travelling with me. If your head hurts, stop counting! :D

    Loving you, good friend.

  12. Mmmm yodelling coyotes...conjures up images of Swiss coyotes..quel Monty Pythonesque!Wolves are too serious for me also:)

  13. Mary, thanks for your suggestion.

    Carolee, I play the game, he who dies with the most love wins...but of course the game's trickiness is you can't keep love without giving it away...there are many practice rounds and this is one of them, I think, at least for me. You can tell by the persistence of confusion. This is not a real life. If it was a real life there would be better instructions.

  14. Rallentanda, you honor me. Monty Python indeed. Coyotes make a wide variety of sounds from yips to gurgles and all up and down the scales.

  15. Have you ever read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver? It is a book about coyotes and other things. I love coyotes, especially when they howl at the moon!

  16. Christopher, you are a man of many talents and an intensely rich inner life. A bright light within any community. This work is far-reaching and fabulous in its vision.

    I have had several encounters with coyote and must now wonder if we have met in some other place and time. Thank you for your comment about Persephone, it really helped a great deal. And I look forward to reading more of what you offer,


  17. Diane, I have read Kingsolver but not that one. Thanks for recommending the book.

    Elizabeth, I read your reply on your site. I get it. I was counter-culture in my youth, hippie to some though the name falls short. Now I write poetry on the internet.

    I am okay with thinking we have karmic connections. There is meaning to the dream of it even if it is only true as poems are.

  18. You have been flattered in so many ways, by so many wonderful writers, about this piece, that all I can say is I'm so happy your stop by my blog brought me to yours. I think you must be one of the most talented writers I have yet to enjoy online. Thank you so much for you visit and for sharing your talent with us.

  19. Gigi, I recommend you to mole, which you can pick up on my sidebar, to box elder and the Buffaloe Pen, these two also appear there. I feel they are my betters, all in different ways. There are so many out there, skilled and every bit as good as any other writer on the planet, just with different yearnings, different fortunes, different fates.

  20. Christopher
    Captivating haibun.

  21. I love coyote stories. This one was a joy to read. Well done.

  22. i first checked about coyote in wiki and yes your post makes so much sense now .. wonderful prose :)

  23. Pamela, James, thanks for visiting.

    Ladynimue, I am not sure what you needed to know, what was lacking. I hope you found it just as you said. Wiki is important to me. I consult it at least once every week.

  24. Nice, nice voice, Christopher.
    The piece has a feel of being part of a larger story.

  25. This is a haibun and a "just so" story. They always can be part of a larger back story. They can also always have a sequel. That's terrific for the movies. If it hits then it gets made many times to tell the "whole" story. :D

    Thank you, Barbara, and you, Tumblewords.

  26. There's a heartbeat in this piece that draws me in as a reader. While you write about the coyote it is the poet I experience throughout the story. This is a beautiful wrought tale and one that evokes the natural world in a visceral way.

  27. This is a fascinating mythological story. Having previously lived in the west I have spent many a night alone in the mountains listening to the spiritual creatures. We have them here in Arkansas but they do not possess the magical character of their western brethren. Great place Oregon, I envy you.I enjoyed the read.

  28. You are right, Linda. I had no intention of disappearing out of the story. What I do is Self expression in all its forms. I will write large and great hearted and I will also write small and mean spirited. I will write me in various forms but it is always me or could be me or has been me.

    And how else can it be? Even when I write of you, I write of the you that I see. Even when I write of God, of Goddess, of You, it is You as you appear to Me. And this is exactly as Dream is, where, as they say, there is no one else at all, only me.

    Craft must enhance Self. This is the practice. It continues in every comment as well. I intend this transparency and I fail to the extent I am obscure. I intend that I am seen.

  29. Don, thank you. Arkansas is one of the states I have not been through. I wonder at your comment though. I hear you less connected with your state than with the northwest. If you loved Arkansas, it might love you back. In that way the others might dance more deeply with you.

    What you say is true for me in this sense, that I say of Oregon that I do not have to travel far to find it all, the ocean, the rainforest, the mountain, the high desert, the prairie, the lake, the river, the swamp. Now it is not easy to see the untamed wilderness however for man has touched it everywhere. He has done so from long before the white settlements, so rich is this place - but I have been in the southeast corner of the state, where the only road west is sixty miles of gravel, and that only because of one ranch. The road is known of as the White Horse Ranch Road. The only other way through is south into Nevada to complete the loop and return north again.

    And I say as well, when Oregon chooses, there is no more beautiful day on the planet. I have been all the way around. We get these days often. When I moved here, I realized I would not move again.

  30. Oh, Christopher. Such a lovely experience caught in words. You share the stories of my friends very well. One of my favorite activities is howling with the coyotes and communing with them, right in the center of Bakersfield. I enjoy them... they seem to understand I am a human who knows grief intimately, who carries it in my bloodstream.

    In your words today, I sense you do as well.

    Thank you.

    My haibun

  31. nicely done....we have many coyotes around here..not a pest for us....and our neighbor/friend/musician goes by the name of Carlos Coyote....he can become a pest at times...but we love him

  32. Julie, Bakersfield is certainly coyote country. Coyotes have found ways to coexist with us, much to the dismay of your farming neighbors who find them costly neighbors. That of course was the point of sharing about Pennsylvania. Even when we try to get rid of them, they increase. Which is fine with me, though I know I am paying for the losses they cause in higher food prices. I am quite fond of coyote and she often appears in my work.

    You are correct that I know grief. It isn't knowing so much as accepting, I think. Most people have a sufficiency of grief but fear it and turn away if they possibly can.

  33. Wayne, I don't think coyotes are pests in the Portland area either but I am sure they're around. Coyotes have spread to most places. They are opportunistic and certainly not intimidated by us.

  34. I wouldn't exactly say coyotes are a pest here in Portland, but they do have regular run-ins with neighborhood cats-- that's why we keep our cats indoors. I thoroughly enjoyed your coyote tale.

  35. Christopher, you blended new prose and old poetry quite nicely it is romantic in it's own sense. I have lived in Coyote territory my hole life at the bottom of, inside of and again at the bottom of the Angeles National forest Near San Fernando Ca. Since the Station fire the Coyote are so displaced it is so sad to see them in their current state. We can only hope things improve.

  36. Howdy, neighbor. Cara, there are surprisingly many of us from the Portland area. Do you know of Dale Favier, by any chance? Carolee and Deb both know him well.

  37. Amanda, I am incurably romantic. I am unashamedly romantic. Even so, I have been without a romance of my own for several years. No one wants to play with me that intimately. Getting old is not for sissies.

    As for your coyotes, I wonder if they are dwindling. They are so opportunistic that they may be bedraggled but still increasing. I am just sayin'. I have no idea. If things are really bad they may turn into true pests, because they are basically omnivorous enough to cause invasive behaviors. Then everyone will hate them.

  38. A moving saga which evoked another world...


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

Get Your Own Visitor Map!