New Coyote

(originally published in Southern California Review & Best New Poets)

It’s midnight in New Mexico, after who knows
how many noddings-off, CD changes,
and quiet tamale stands in Texas dust,
before we feel safe enough: hundreds of miles
from Johnson Space Center and the I-45
corridor, where Houston investigators              
routinely interview the bones of schoolgirls,

plenty far from looming rock formations
when out of the tumbleweed along I-10,
howls find their way out—coyotes siren
for hours. They appear along the sides
of the interstate only to disappear into dry dark.
The Chevy moves on quickly, its instinct
to flee. It’s the coyote’s to chase us down,

it’s mine to turn the car around—save us all,
as if they need saving, these neophilic creatures.
But maybe it is in my nature to go back,
to be amazed at its smallness, how voice can be
much bigger than body—like those of us
eight-year-olds who sang “We are the World” for seven
dead astronauts. They fell apart, their shuttle dissolved:
a cube of ice in the fevered mouth of the universe.

And I used to be able to fall asleep
by tree song, that familiar lull of rustle
and fidget in wind. Instead: chickens rip
open wide the air with squawks as coyotes
raid the neighbor’s coop and schoolboys
pied-piper their prize-winning swine
to slaughter. How does this all work?

Coyotes showing up in subways and
elevators. That day. These newspaper
clippings. This looking back on it as though
terror had forgone the spark of city for sky,
and all the days since I’ve tucked inside
skin and sleep, partly existing, never awake
to becoming some small, wild dog that haunts
a desert it doesn’t need any more.