Finalist : Terrain.org 7th Annual Contest in Poetry
If You Were to Build a Coyote
If you were to build a coyote with your child, you might begin
with a leaf pile as big around as your child’s arms.
You might place the leaves into a trash bag.
You might cut out triangles from brown paper
grocery bags using the blunt-tipped scissors with purple handles
that your child can use to cut by herself. You might guide
her hands. Two triangles for ears, one upside-down triangle
for a face. A piece of brown twine you found in the garden
for a tail. If you don’t make legs
for your coyote, she can’t run away from you,
you might tell your child, who solemnly nods and hugs
the crackling animal she’s made. The coyote,
you might tell your child, figures greatly in American Indian mythology
as a trickster. The trick is that the coyote
hunts the rats and the pomegranates rotting in the grass
or pushes her black nose through the soft shit-steaming diapers,
coffee grounds, and avocado peels we put outside
our house. The trick is that the coyote has learned to live
with ryegrass and trash cans, mountain laurel and the moist low places
in the garden. You might tell your child that at night
the coyote drinks the rainwater pooled in the smooth white stones
outside her bedroom window. With a rough warm tongue.
If you wake up in the night, you might hear her lapping, and it sounds
like water dripping in the sink. If you step out of your bed
and go to the window, the coyote will turn to you
with hazel eyes, regard you coolly until she sees
that it’s you, the one who made her,
and then she might tell you about her night, and yours
If time were wind that blew through me
I would feel it like that: frothing
my whitening crown, bending my
limbs, casting my flowers
into the rain-slick street. If time
were a jay that flew through me,
I would wear as ornament
the blue veins it drew. If I were
to plant my face in the lowest
branch’s lowest cluster of blooms,
I would smell the fence next to the tree,
the street on the other side of the fence,
and honey in a tablespoon.
If the crinkled flowers’ semi-
transparent suggestions were to keep falling
in such abundance, petaling
my face and hair and shoulders and neck,
I would not be blamed for thinking
they suggested sadness, despite
the unfathomable fabrication
of next spring’s leaves and white flowers
deep in the bark and secreted
roots. If I were to venture farther
under its canopy, I would be
too old to stand in the shade
and not discern it as the shade
beauty casts on the no longer beautiful.
If, softly roaring on the other
side of the fence, cars were to speed
downtown as if to undo time
with crepe myrtle petals dotting
their tires (while the tree nods or bows
with a fullness like grace),
the memory of this would slam
and maybe sadden me if I
could remember it when the tree
sheds long strips of its bark and drops
every last one of its orange leaves
in autumn when time comes for it.
Compost, gate post, lamppost, leaf,
possum tail and possum teeth.
Sapling, dove wing, honeybee,
three peaches on the tree.
One turned brown,
one stayed green,
one was pierced by grackle beak.
P-I-T spells pit sings she.