The night fully settles
over northern Minnesota
in the sky grows dark
as the stars make
their reluctant appearance.
Peering through the tall grasses
of the wetlands abutting the road
1000 stars are born
and die in an instant
only to be reborn again
they are replaced by
the beetles that accompany
the slowly rising sun.
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.
I could never understand as a child why the moon was female, the sun always male, and most stars but ours had Arabic names. Now makes much more sense to me, the moon is never one to hog the sky and even when she commands more than her usual space, you only want to stare at her in rapture, while the sun is so vain you can stare only briefly and must look away, and he is as likely to hide or flee when he is most wanted, as a calming, steady presence. As for the names of all the others, they don’t sound like ours, and so we cast them off as aliens to our small, smug world
He watched as the flame licked at the lip of the candle, the wax slowly conceding and falling in, forming the cradle on which the flame danced. He wondered how something as simple as a wax cylinder could have an inherent knowledge of beauty and simplicity and yet he stared at it certain the knowledge was there. He dared not put out the flame for he could not deprive the night of this momentary beauty when it’s love, the moon had chosen to retreat leaving the stars to mock their small, immature brother.
As a child I would often stare up into the night sky. The stars, the planets, at least the two I knew I could see. My parents didn’t think my behavior odd, they assumed I wanted to be a scientist and explore the universe. I let them believe this. It was far easier than explaining that the alternative was to sit in the living room with them and listen to them bicker about something so minor that happened that day, with no escape from their earthly prison.
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