Friday, April 29, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote in High School

"Coyote in High School" is the final poem of my sequence of Coyote poems that I've posted like a serialized chapbook for #NationalPoetryMonth. In this poem, I take a look at the reality behind the bad boy archetype that's so common in books, movies, and television. 

The Fonzie character in the TV series, Happy Days, may have been the "cool" guy everyone else wanted to be, but his horizons were most likely limited by his family situation and his position in the class structure of his town and his country.


What is it about the bad boy,
the one in black leather
on too loud, too fast wheels,
the one we were warned against in high school?
Behind the scenes of proms and sock hops
and classes sanitized so we wouldn’t catch
the germs of thought,
all the girls had dreams about that bad boy
that we couldn’t even admit to ourselves
while our dates were safe white bread.

When we walked down the halls to lunch,
we knew the bad boys,
leaning against the walls
in cocky poses of insolence and threat,
were using their X-ray vision to see us
naked or--worse--in our schoolgirl underwear.
Some of us hunched over our books
and scuttled past that leering line.
Some of us stretched erect and strutted slightly
on our way beyond their limited prospects.

A classic teacher’s pet,
I snuck out twice with dangerous boys,
sideswiped by the kind of temporary insanity
that catches your heart in your throat,
roller-coaster, sky-diving, over-the-falls-in-a-barrel
fear and excitement blended into one shiver.

The first, in senior year, was careful with me,
insistent on leaving the good-girl scholar a virgin.
He didn’t want to hurt me, he said,
didn’t want to be bad news. I didn’t tell him
my father had taken care of that years earlier.
I didn’t answer his phone calls after that, either.
A couple of years later, the second one took me to his room
on the back of his Harley and made love to me
all night, telling me he knew he wasn’t good enough
for a girl like me, but he’d make me happy anyway.
He did that, and I avoided him thereafter.

I went with each only once,
though they were more gentle than the general run
of jocks and frat boys my friends dated.
After all, the insanity had been only temporary.
I had friends who’d stepped over the line too often
or too long and paid and paid—
as did some of us who mated with business or psych majors,
just in different ways.

Looking back, I wonder
if anyone ever warns the hard-shelled boys in leather
against the honor roll girls?

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote at Your Wedding

"Coyote at Your Wedding," the 9th and penultimate poem in the sequence of Coyote poems I've posted for #NationalPoetryMonth, brings this particular narrative of Coyote to an end. The final poem is a commentary on the class situation of the bad boy/Coyote archetype, and the way the deck is stacked against such people (and even supernatural beings).


He left his shotgun in the car,
though he longed to storm
through the doors and aim
a blast at the groom’s head.
He has no invitation,
of course,
and hopes some fool
tries to make him
leave. He’s a black-leather thunderhead
among the white flowers.
He wants to make a scene,
commit a crime, scandalize
the guests, bloody
the groom’s nose, carry off
the bride kicking and screaming.

As he walks through the crowd,
the invited ones move
to give him space
as they would any wild predator
stalking through the church.
Trouble swirls around him,
creating a wake
of racing hearts
and choked-back squeals.
He wants
to smash the flowers,
throw food at the walls,
rip the bridesmaid’s
dresses, curse the minister.

He’s looking but can’t find you
because you’re waiting
off scene for your musical cue
to enter in procession.
Coyote drops hard
into an aisle seat
in the back row
where he can grab you
and take off when you come in reach.
He props one boot
on the back of the seat in front
to block anyone else’s access
to his row. He doesn’t know
he’s sitting on the groom’s side.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote at the Park

The 8th poem in the serialized chapbook of Coyote poems that I'm posting for #NationalPoetryMonth is "Coyote at the Park." In this poem, for a change, Coyote is the one being watched while unaware of the watcher.

As I thought more and more about the bad boy archetype in fiction, TV, and movies, I came to realize that it has its root in class. The bad boy is always an outsider, poor, working class, rough-edged, not one of the privileged class. He may have found a way to make himself wealthy, like Gatsby, but he always carries that taint of the interloper. He has charm, intelligence, and bags of sex appeal, but he's still from the wrong side of town.


Coyote sits and waits.
He’s asked you to meet him
here where you’ll feel safe,
as if
anywhere were safe
with Coyote.
You spot him
as soon as you enter
through the stone arches,
all that dark shining
in the sunlight.
Teenaged girls in tight pastels
giggle and flirt
with more trouble
than they could ever handle,
and Coyote sends them
off with a wink.
He’s in a good mood,
waiting for you to come
as you promised,
benevolent predator
refusing the prey
on a whim or the hope
of something better.

From behind the stone,
you watch his long lithe body
stretched on the wooden bench
as if to soak up the heat
stored in its slats,
grace unconscious
of your secret admiration.
Coyote is a contented man
today when you are expected
any moment
before he realizes
you’re gone.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote in Black Leather

The 7th poem in my sequence of Coyote poems for #NationalPoetryMonth that I'm posting to this blog as a kind of serialized chapbook is "Coyote in Black Leather." I wrote this poem immediately after writing the poem, "Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote" (posted here yesterday). This is one of the most popular and reprinted poems I've ever written.

After writing this poem, I began to envision a whole sequence of poems about the bad boy archetype as Coyote in human form. Coyote is the trickster, the troublemaker, and yet often an ally of humans, even as he tries to seduce and exploit them. That seemed a good match for the anti-hero that the bad boy figure in literature, film, and television so often turns out to be.


Coyote slides on black leather
over the T-shirt
that reins in biceps, shoulders, chest.
Dark jeans and biker boots cover the rest
of his long, lithe body as he invades
your everyday, suburban life
like a growl.
You avert your eyes, pretend
you don’t watch
his tight, hard body, his mocking face.
You know he’s bad, doesn’t belong.
Besides, seeing him makes your face too
red, your breath too
short, your bones too
soft, your clothes too
tight. You pretend
not to peek, don’t want him to catch you looking
at the hungry way he stares at you.
Coyote has no class.

Coyote is your secret.
You tell him it’s more exciting that way.
He lifts the eyebrow bisected by a scar and stares
you into silence. He knows
you’re ashamed. He thinks
you’re ashamed of him.
Coyote takes you
to dangerous places.
In dark, dirty bars, he threatens drunks
and fights to protect you.
Coyote takes you
where no one else can.
Coyote takes you
where you can’t admit you want to go.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Monday, April 25, 2016

National Poetry Month--Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote

"Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote" is the 6th in my sequence of Coyote poems for #NationalPoetryMonth. It was the second one written, however. "3 O'Clock in the Morning, Alone" was the first I'd written with the Coyote avatar. Several years later, my youngest son had inveigled me into watching the TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a sizzling scene of a lovesick Spike watching outside Buffy's window at night inspired me to write this poem. And this one then unleashed several others.


stands in shadows, only the red eye
of his cigarette showing his presence.
He watches lights in windows
downstairs and your silhouette
against curtains as you move
from room to room, readying for bed.
He grinds cigarette into the ground
with his boot, to join the others
littering the spot where he lurks,
across the street, vacant lot,
under trees along the fence line.

As you switch off lights,
room by room, and climb stairs
to your bed, Coyote moves out
of the shadows, closer to you
by a few feet more. The outer rays
of the light on the corner
catch his sharp features, golden hair,
the hunger on his face.

He watches your light click on upstairs.
Closing his eyes, Coyote can see within
your walls as you undress and slide under
covers. Tendons in his neck stand out,
rigid with tension, and he swallows his own
wanting with pain. He opens his eyes
to the dark again, watches your last light
wink out, whispers something so soft
even he won’t hear, stays to witness
the vulnerability of your restless body.
Sleep. Coyote’s standing watch.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote Invades Your Dreams

(Note: I have no image for this post. I want to warn you not to search for "images coyote dreams" on the internet. It seems there's a popular trap used in hunting coyotes that's called "pipe dream." Your stomach will take hours to settle down from the images of bloody coyotes entrapped, dead in groups and hung on lines like fish on a stringer. Even a dreamcatcher made of coyote skin, head, and tail.)

This is the 5th in my sequence of Coyote poems for #NationalPoetryMonth, "Coyote Invades Your Dreams." The dream world is, of course, a natural for Coyote since he's a supernatural being who has taken on human form. He can come and go there even more easily than he can in the modern material world we all live in.


You’re staying clear
of him. Just because
you noticed him once
or twice doesn’t mean you want
anything to do with him.
He’s beneath you—
and above you and inside you
in your dreams. His mouth
drinks you deep, and you come
up empty and gasping
for air and for him. That traitor,
your body, clings to him like a life
raft in this hurricane
you’re dreaming. His face
above yours loses its knowing
smile as he takes you. Again,
this night, you drown
in your own desire. Coyote
marks you as his.
You wake to the memory
of a growl.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote on the Telephone

Here is the fourth in my sequence of Coyote poems for #NationalPoetryMonth, "Coyote on the Telephone." I wanted to write this poem to demonstrate the power of Coyote's seductive voice and persuasive words.

Coyote, of course, is famous for his use of the word. He can talk himself out of almost anything, which is good for him because he usually talks himself into all kinds of trouble, taking someone else with him who may not be as adept at sidestepping the negative consequences when they come slamming down.


Coyote calls you on the phone,
asks, “Where have you been all my life?”
in a voice that climbs inside your head
and crawls down your backbone
to your hips. He asks, “When
can I see you again?” Your brain
says never, but his voice stops it
and with some other part
of your body, you reply, “Whenever
you want.” Coyote laughs, low and sultry,
and you shiver, knowing
how much trouble you’re in.

You call Coyote. You’ve sworn
you won’t, not again, but your fingers
press the numbers
on their own without the brain’s
supervision. Your brain’s not
doing too well when Coyote
is near--or even the thought
of him. When you say, “I shouldn’t
have called; I swore I wouldn’t,”
he laughs that way he has
that sends your synapses flying
and your skin growing too hot
and tight for your bones
that are melting as he growls.
You know you ought to hang up
and your finger sits above
the TALK button throughout
the conversation but only pushes
it after the dial tone kicks in.

You never thought you were weak
before. Coyote’s taught you
what you never wanted to learn.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Friday, April 22, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote at the Poetry Reading

Today's poem is the third in my sequence of Coyote poems for #NationalPoetryMonth. "Coyote at the Poetry Reading" was written later in the series, although in the narrative sequence, its place comes much earlier near the beginning.

As a poet who's done hundreds of readings and organized long-running poetry reading series for many years, it was a natural for me to write a poem putting Coyote in that environment, especially because there are poets who try to pretend to be like Coyote, wearing their expensive, tailored leather jackets and flaunting their Ivy League degrees (as they pretend to scorn all such things). The thought of setting the real deal up against such pretenders and other cabals on the poetry circuit was irresistible.

Of course, all the black-leather bad boys of film, television, and literature owe their genesis to Marlon Brando's masterful performance in The Wild One. So here's a photo of the grand old original.


He walks in late,
of course,
and sits in the back row
even though he’s on the program.
Coyote wraps a storm
around him like a protective shield,
wears his leather like armor,
stares the woman in business suit
and her partner in high-style casual
into dropping their eyes. Coyote
makes everyone nervous.

Whispers circle the room.
Who asked him to read?
“Must have been some woman,”
one bearded man says, with a sniff.
“A guy would have known better.”
“Probably thinks it’s some kind of slam,”
one professor tells another.

When they call his name,
Coyote stalks to the podium
and growls into the microphone,
while, around the room, the air
burns with after-lightning
ozone and smells of blood
and splintered bones.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

National Poetry Month--Appointment with Coyote

I must confess I’ve always had a fascination with the bad boy in literature, TV, and film.  I know it’s not healthy, but judging by the sheer number of bad boys in fairy tales, literature, movies, and television, it must be pretty common.

I have been fortunate enough to have been married to two of the nicest men in the world, my late first husband and my current husband, but before and between them, I had the most lamentable taste in men. I blame it on all the reading I did as a child. The bad boys were always the most interesting guys. 

All this may explain why, over the years, I've written such a number of Coyote poems, and why they seem to form a narrative arc.


Coyote showers, shaves, slathers musk
when he knows he will see her. On Wednesdays,
ten is a sacred hour.
He always wears something new
when she comes for her appointment
to see if she will notice.
Nights fill with Wednesday
morning dreams,
but the empty days go on—
all but hers, when he becomes
for fifty minutes
strange, compelling
beast, sexual being.
Coyote sees it in her eyes, the way she draws
unconsciously near, the sudden aware
jerk backwards
that must have been the apple’s
consequence in Eden.

The things he could make her feel, she fears.

This morning her old car refuses
to start. Coyote drives her home,
thighs one hand apart. Filling the air
with her fragrance, she pretends
nothing joins them. Coyote fears
losing control in the sleet
and sliding into some fiery collision
before he reaches her door,
then races skidding away in the ice.

Tomorrow, her husband will buy her a battery.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

National Poetry Month--Three O’Clock in the Morning, Alone

I have written a sequence of Coyote poems, imagining the trickster Coyote manifesting as an avatar in human form. In these poems, I see Coyote as the archetype of all the "bad boys" of literature, film, and television--Bluebeard or the Beast in fairy tales, Heathcliff, Marc Antony, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I've always been secretly drawn to these dark antiheroes, and judging by the sheer number of bad boys in fairy tales, literature, movies, and television, so are many others.

The poems I've written about Coyote have been some of my most popular poems. I even have a whole group of female fans in the UK just for the Coyote poems. So I thought I would post a Coyote poem each day for the next ten days in sequence, sort of a serialized chapbook of Coyote poems. Here is the first.


Coyote wails in the far field
beside his woods.
He runs yelping,
baying among the trees,
hot on your trail
across farms and highways,
down city streets to prowl
outside your triple-locked doors.

Coyote could splinter
that wood, shatter
your windows, plunge
into your life, drag you
to his den.
He will be civilized instead,
phone you in the morning, pretend
he has left a book behind.

Coyote moves back
into his woods, voice
He dials your number
now, growls into your sleepy ear.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Poem for National Poetry Month--"Storm Son"

With all the turmoil and political posturing toward more war while we're yet engaged in a continuing war for the longest time in our nation's history, I thought I would post this poem I wrote when my oldest son's unit was called up, and he was pulled out of his freshman year in college for Desert Storm. He's older now, running a successful business of his own after earlier years of detour caused by this interruption in his higher education, but I remember vividly how I felt when he was called to go to a war many of us believed was unnecessary.


I almost died giving him life,
bled on the table for an hour after
his head forced its way out between my legs
while they wheeled me to the delivery room.
In fifth grade, he played football, youngest
on the field, punched holes
in the line of defense
till they tackled him and kicked in his ribs.
At sixteen, two men mugged him
on payday. He slugged the one
who took his cash. The other
slashed his arm open
before they fled. Dripping blood,
he woke me to take him for stitches.

He joined the Reserves, like most of the others
on the Fast Track in his AIT,
for college money, poor man’s financial aid.
Before he joined, we talked
about war. Lifelong activist, I warned him
they’d call and he’d have to go.
He wasn’t gung-ho, just willing to pay
the price to go to school.

When he entered college last semester,
I watched him discover
learning’s delights. He planned to apply
for scholarships, decided he wanted to teach
physics, just starting
to do what I always
knew he could. Nineteen,
he looks twenty-five
to strangers who think he’s my brother.
To me, he still
looks too damn young
to kill or die in the desert.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Poem for National Poetry Month--Oklahoma Poem

I'm just back from the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) 2016 national conference in Los Angeles. While there, I gave a reading and saw many old friends and colleagues, starting collaborations on several new projects.

One of the things I most enjoyed was a Friday evening spent with several much-loved people and ending in a long conversation with Jeanetta Calhoun Mish about Oklahoma and the Oklahoma literary scene. Jeanetta is the director of the Red Earth Low-Residency MFA Program at Oklahoma City University and the founding editor of Mongrel Empire Press. 

Our long, fruitful discussion left me homesick for Oklahoma, so my first poem on here for National Poetry Month is a poem for Oklahoma. 

Please notice that the word, "squaw." is used in this poem as the pejorative utterance of a self-hating Indian man, my father. This word is always an insult, and I don't want anyone feeling that, because it was used in a particular context in this poem, that it's an okay word to use to refer to Indian women. It definitely is not.

(for Jim Barnes)

In his first words, I can hear Oklahoma,
the hill country way back behind his talk
about teaching French literature in translation,
as if I have gone home, drifted back
through all the years to that childhood place I fled.

I have described it to others
as the armpit of the nation,
when I was young and not long free
of its windy roads and redbud trees and overgrown
hills, still hurt and bitter
about things Oklahoma had little to do with,
beyond being the last place to stand
for a people and the place where one of them
was born and the place where he left
his wife and kids. The last two events were
what ate at me, and they could have
happened anywhere.

Only the first was unique
to Oklahoma, the old Indian territory
where my ancestors limped off the Trail of Tears
to join other tribes forced from their homes
by other ancestors of mine,
founded the Cherokee Female Seminary
at Tahlequah and a newspaper
all over again,
were finally forced to give up their lands
so rich ranchers could take the best parts
of the reservation and leave the hilly, scrub lands
to my great-grandparents, great-aunts, grand-uncles,
and Grandma.

What does any of this have to do with me now
all these years and miles away?
Me, with the broad squaw face,
as my self-hating father, from whom it came, called it?
When I hear Jim say about Oklahoma
(as one refugee to another), “We both got out,
but it’s still inside—it settles in you,”
I know he’s right, Oklahoma in more than his voice,
in the way he makes light of misfortune,
in his penchant for poking fun
at pretensions, his own and others’.
Oklahoma’s settled in us both.
And through the echoes in his voice of its turtledoves
and winds and sky that could pull you off your feet
into infinity if you didn’t have troubles to weigh you down
to the earth, I make my peace with it
and come home.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)