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.
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.
He clearly remembers standing on the edge peering down into the almost bottomless canyon, listening to the narrow river slide across the rocks thrown down by its walls over millennia. He was a visitor here, knew he would stay only briefly, then leave, his spirit hiding among the rocks in the nearby mountains, staring down on the mesa for eternity. He remembers listening for coyote, begging the wily one to tell him the tales of its ancestors with whom he will soon share this canyon. All he hears is the wail of the jackrabbit, coyote’s message in a foreign voice, as night engulfs the mesa and he stares up at the galaxies and stars which barely notice the small orb hanging in the distant sky.
The mountains rise, bluer blacker than real against a faded sky. The ancestors have fled these hills, no orange eyes stare out of the night, no voices of the trickster take up chorus against the stars.
He strains mightily to hear the sound of a wolf. He knows the voice of coyote well, and here they are ever-present. But wolf is a different creature. He knows coyote will try to take the shape and voice of wolf. But an elder such as he can tell the difference. Wolf is his totem, and each day the man knows he grows closer to death. He wants to speak with wolf one last time, out here, among the sage and jackrabbits. He wants to sit with wolf and stare at the thickening moon and leave the wolf his story to impart to another generation.
The man sits, waiting patiently for the wolf to arrive. It has been far too long, this wait, as the Wolf has his lair in the distant mountain, and has little use for the people in the city, in the place where the man sits waiting. The man is sure they met once, although he is now beginning to wonder if it was simply coyote assuming the shape of his lupine imagination. The man cannot or will not say why he wishes to see the Wolf, it is enough for him to have the desire, and he knows that once wolf arrives, he and the Wolf together will sing a piercing song to the moon.
His brother said that if you left the windows open at night, the ghosts would come in and might steal your soul. He didn’t care, he wanted to hear the song the stars sang every night, to see them come down and move in pairs across the mesa, for stars, he knew turned orange when they left their celestial perch, and would certainly keep the ghosts away, for ghosts were like rabbits and hid when the stars came near, and once in a while, if a ghost moved too slowly he would hear its cry as it was captured by a star. And, he was certain, ghosts preferred doors, and they kept theirs tightly locked, for you never knew what you’d find out on the mesa.