Back to Stories

Honoring Šung'mayetu The Underdog

Poet Lois Red Elk debuts two new tributes to coyote

It's not an easy life being Šung'mayetu.

"Already, coyote has been out and about. Maybe it was the hot early summer-like days this spring that quickly turned into thunder, lightning and a heavy down pouring of rain that fooled coyote," writes poet Lois Red Elk from her desk on the prairie not far from the waters of Fort Peck Reservoir. "Saw him sitting under the dead branches of a leafless tree, trying to protect his un-kept hair from getting wet."

When coyotes come a calling, Red Elk pays attention. "
Or, maybe he made a sighting for my view because he wanted his stories to be told. Today I'm offering two poems that coyote sent to me.  Both are new and will appear in my new book coming out later this year."

Mountain Journal looks forward to publication of Red Elk's next volume of poems, some that have made their debut here. In the poems that follow, Red Elk celebrates survival, persistence and the novelty of North America's native canid that paradoxically has grown more prolific in the face of relentless human persecution. Capable of mischief and always loaded with lessons learned from the journey, coyote is the West's ultimate sonorous underdog. 
Photograph courtesy National Park Service
Photograph courtesy National Park Service
     About His Skin Again

Saw a mangled coyote at Tule Creek
     just off highway #2.  
He looked long gone, 
     a dusty haze rising, 
the last ashes smoldering, drifting
     from sad eyes,
darkening gathering clouds.
     Just as I thought 
to wish him salutations, again,
     he jumped up, 
hurriedly brushed himself off, 
     abandoned his skin 
where it landed and hobbled away.
     A dust devil, 
lingering in the distance
     seemed to be 
waiting for remnants, as it kept 
     rotating in place 
ready to absorb his scrawny spirit.  
     I watched coyote
Stop above his pitiful shadow
     eye the deathly 
whirlwind, wave it off, then began
     a series of yips 
as if to say, “Be on your way,
     I’m not done here yet, 
I need one more go at that skin.”  
     He glanced at his tail, 
the only part of this body that had hair,
     then went back 
to retrieve what he could of that mangled fur. 
     Wrapping his ribs
the best he could, coyote grinned, 
     dipped his mouth 
into the local creek and drank hard.  
     He would live 
another day, no pride, just a patched coat.

©Lois Red Elk
  Coyote’s Track

The shiny set of iron rails, laid
straight, exact and heavily traveled
call my peripheral mind to a quick 
glance where a different kind of 
strength carries heavy loads from 
one coast to another.  I had to look
hard as it wasn’t boxcars this time.  
What kind of determined pace was
there.  It was coyote, making his way 
over oily ties and hot chipped rock.
Undeterred, I questioned what kind of 
hunger was feeding his spirit this time.
He resembled a kind of lost ghost,
temporary but needing, not finished.
Were shoulders pushing some old
promise or some change of plans?
Unfolding before my curious eyes,
each paw lifted his story ahead of
each pant of tongue for this legend.
Where was he going/ was it panic?
an awakening?  Love?  Who was the
voice, the call he was responding
to, the reward for this hard journey.
I want to follow him, out of site, to
a remote part of the country side,
steal his hair, make myself invisible.
I look back to the road and feel like
I’m intruding too far, but want one
more view.  But he’s gone. I go to
my meeting, but it’s too late my mind
has been kidnapped by a polished
trickster. I leave the meeting early.
On my way out of town, I see a
thin, older man walking up the tracks
heading east.  I’m startled, did I just
witness another shift.  I turn away.  I
don’t want to make eye contact, else
the vision linger.  Sometimes we
have to let legends be on their way.

©Lois Red Elk

EDITOR'S NOTE: Enjoy the work of award-winning Dakota/Lakota poet Red Elk in the volumes Why I Return To Makoce; Our Blood Remembers; and Dragonfly Weather. Also enjoy Red Elk's last column titled When The Meadowlark Sings Oiyokipi Omaka Teca



Lois Red Elk-Reed
About Lois Red Elk-Reed

Lois Red Elk-Reed is a poet who calls the high plains home. She is Mountain Journal's poet in residence.
Increase our impact by sharing this story.