High Plains Book of the Dead

The coyote sprawls next to the blacktop,
his legs extended in front of him,
or so it looks from here, tongue
slack on the October air and dripping.
I slow to look closer (sick? car struck?). 

His legs have been cut off at the joint, clean
as if by a surgeon. No blood, just the blue-white
rings of bone like the circles of a lopped tree. Gangrene
or starvation: Hell in the next roll of the dice
no matter which side up.

Should they be robbed of their last days, moments,
the agonized glide from sunlight, moonlight,
into the wholeness of dark, their pain perhaps
the epitome of being, an intense chaos
they deserve and desire even as they wish
to escape, do the suffering forgive us? 

The coyote now stands on the stumps of his front legs
as I reach behind the seat for an ax, stumbles
up the knoll and turns at the fence line
as if beckoning me to follow with the blade.
The barbed wire pricks my finger and I suck the wound,
surveying the prairie stretching away to the horizon
empty as the hand that can not hold a tool, a pen,
a lover firmly for fear that all creation will float away
just the same. The coyote gone.

                  *

Forty nights the coyote shambles
through my dreams, a deformed breeze
on bloodless half-legs, and sometimes
he stops to stare at me, his eyes livid,
fur glistening in the half-light of the high plains
in fall. And I wake and step to the window
to stare into the black¾Sirius first loping,
then stumbling through the sky,
lying down as if never to rise.

------------------------

Crazy Woman Canyon 

On a river crooked as a man’s walk from broken love
to broken love, toward blood-ties sundered
and his bones buckled under the hooves of deer
a hundred years hence, tree swallows
skim the water, grace in the service of hunger.

The ghost of a madwoman wanders this canyon
afraid to stop singing lest her throat fill
with Mayflies and silence. Her song, a miracle
of longing, stretches like fingers into dread. The sun
wanes among the scrub willow and pasque flowers,

and the trout I carry on a stripped twig stare
blank-eyed, the blue too strange to be home,
green-winged alien cousins swimming there, swooping
up from the margin between the mundane world
and the illusion of heaven. She invites me to lie here,

and I imagine the moon, already ascending, heedless
as it sails over and over and over the water... Coyotes
wail grace somewhere downriver, and the mad one,
alone in her grief for a century, picks up the chorus,
a song of welcome rising from ten thousand diaphanous

wings on her lips, a map to her in their striations,
instructions for how to love a ghost in the complex
rhythms of so many in the falling light. Rainbow
rise to peek at their dead kin, and I turn
toward the canyon rim, the coyotes
now focused on their meal, the woman
returned to her weeping.

Michael McIrvin is the author of five poetry collections, including
Optimism Blues: Poems Selected and New (Cedar Hill Books,
San Diego), two novels including The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time (BeWrite Books, Canada/UK), and an essay collection. He taught writing and literature for several years at the University of Wyoming and now makes his living as a writer and freelance editor. He lives with his wife, Sharon, on the high plains of Wyoming.
 


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