We were told the average background color of the universe was turquoise. She said “that’s because a coyote ripped it from the mountains outside Cerrillos. But now they say it’s actually a shade of dark beige, drying mud colored.” It was a glitch in the software, the astronomers said. The coyote was unmoved.
She sits on the floor sorting coupons and roughly clipped articles on herbs and natural remedies. Occasionally she looks down at the hollow of her chest, at the still reddened slash left by the scalpel. “I’ve got no veins left. I hate those damn needles. If they want to poison me, I’ll drink it gladly. Socrates had nothing on me.”
I rub her feet as she slides into the MRI tube, and pull on her toes. “I can pull you out at any time.” I look at my wrist but there is no time in this room, checked at the door. Just the metronomic magnet. As she emerges she grabs my hand, presses it against my chest. I cradle her head and trace the scar across her scalp, trying to touch the missing brain matter, the tumor it nestled, pushing aside the brittle hair. “Lightly toasted,” she whispers with a weak smile. She hates white coats and stethoscopes. “They’re the new morticians.” They take her in small sections. She is a slide collection in the back of my closet, on the pathologists shelf. I want to gather them all and reassemble her. I want her to be a young girl of fifteen again.
Coyotes wander down from the Sandia hills. They gather outside the Santo Domingo Pueblo, sensing the slow seepage of heat from the sun baked adobe. There is no moon. They know each star. They stare into the darkened sky. They see only turquoise.
The clouds well up over the foothills casting a gray pall, bearing the angry spirits of the chindi who dance amid the scrub juniper. Brother Serra, was this what you found, wandering along the coast, tending the odd sheep, Indian and whatever else crossed your path?
The blue bird hopping across the dried grasses puffing its grey breastplate and cape sitting back, its long tail feathers a perfect counterbalance. It stares at the oppressing clouds and senses the impending rain. The horses wandering the hill pausing to graze on the sparse green grasses. The roan mare stares at the colt dashing among the trees then returns to her meal, awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await the fall of night when they are free to roam and steal other souls. Was your water rite more powerful than the blessing chants? Did you ward off their evil and purify the breeze of the mountains?
I sing a shattered song of someone else’s youth the melody forgotten the words faded into odd syllables heard in my dreams. The coyote stands at the edge of a gully staring at me and wondering why I slip from the hogan through the hole punched in the back wall slinking away in the encroaching dark. The priest, his saffron robes pulled tight around his legs in the morning chill, stares as I run my hands across the giant brass bell feeling its resonance. I hear the dirge as sleep nips at the edge of my consciousness grabbing the frayed margins of life
Out here, he warned, you should always be on the lookout for snakes by day, not that they will go out of their way to attack you, but stray into their territory and the Western Diamondback will give you a quick lesson in awareness. They hide among the scrub sage and in the arroyos, but you still walk for this kind of beauty demands your attention regardless. And at night, he added, don’t stray too far for the coyotes wander freely looking for rabbits and small game, and though you would be too large a meal, you’d still be worth a taste. You are in their home, after all.
The night is that bitter cold that slices easily through nylon and Polartec, makes child’s play of fleece and denim. The small rooms glow in the dim radiance of propane lights and heaters as the silver is carefully packed away in plastic tool boxes. The pinyon wood is neatly stacked in forty pyres, some little taller than the white children clinging to their parents’ legs, some reaching twenty-five feet, frozen sentinels against the star gorged sky. The fires are slowly lighted from the top, the green wood slowly creeps to flame as its sap drips fire until the pile is consumed. Half frozen we step away from the sudden oven heat. The smoke climbs obliterating the stars as the procession snakes from the small, adobe church, the men at its head firing rifles into the scowling smoke cloud. A sheet is draped over the four poles a chupah over the statue of the Virgin Mother remarried to her people. She weaves through the crowd, gringos, Indians, looking always upward, beyond the smoke the clouds against which it nestles, beyond all, for another faint glimpse of her Son.
Coyote no longer inhabits the hill south of our city. Yet we know he is there, staring down at the lake, watching the grape clusters fatten on the vines. We cannot see the orange-red orbs of his eyes on a still winter night. We know he sees us. Coyote cannot be found, no carcasses attest to his presence. Coyote is everywhere, walking among us, living in parks, living in plain sight, knowing he is invisible. We see his tricks, know we were once again outsmarted, know we can outsmart him. Coyote no longer inhabits the hills here, for he has morphed, and we are coyote.
The moon hid from me last night in a cloudless sky, and only a week from full, so we both knew it was there, peeking for a brief moment from behind the old oak in the neighbors yard. It wasn’t the first time the moon had done this, it will not be the last either, I am certain, but I do remember the time in 1970, the heat of San Antonio in mid-summer more oppressive than usual and only the old barracks for the moon to use as hiding place. Yet it hid, and that night I didn’t mind Lying in the base hospital, where the nurses ignored me for the seriously wounded, as they should reading the orders issued that day transferring me to the Reserves as my fellow air policemen in my training squadron were calling home, most in shock, to announce that their plan to avoid Vietnam by enlisting would soon be scattered on the tarmac of Da Nang Air Base.
At night, in these mountains you see a million stars, but all you hear is the silence. It bothers you, this silence and you strain to hear, what? There is no one here but you and your breath is swallowed by the night sky. Be still for the wind will rise, and these mountains and these trees herd us into ever smaller spaces as we have been herded for generations, we will gather as we ride among the peaks and down into canyons, listen carefully, for inside the wind we dance around your ears, our songs faint. As the full moon rises slowly over the mountain listen carefully you will look for us but we cannot be seen. You will hear our song dancing across this mesa, one voice to another. You will imagine us coyote, you will feel a chill along your spine and we will fall silent. The stars will smile for they know our stories but to you we are simply, the songs of coyotes. Listen to our voices we will tell you of the land of the grasses once here where our herds grazed, now gone to endless sage. As we lick at your face taste the tears which have watered this now arid soil. Look at the flowers pushing out of the sand and rock, see our faces in the stones about your feet. You may return to your homes and pull your comforters around your chins, hiding from the night’s chill, but we shall remain among these peaks, in these canyons for another ten thousand moons.
First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3, July 2019