There are no monsters in this lake I tell my granddaughter, answering her unasked question. There are bears in the woods around here and there used to be an owl which made an afternoon visit. There are deer, certainly and there could be a coyote or two. If you don’t believe me, ask the crows, everyone knows that they can never keep a secret.
First published in From the Finger Lakes: A Memoir Anthology, Cayuga Lake Books, 2021
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.
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.