Coyote, with Mange
Oh, Unreadable One, why
have you done this to your dumb creature?
Why have you chosen to punish the coyote
rummaging for chicken bones in the dung heap,
shucked the fur from his tail
and fashioned it into a scabby cane?
Why have you denuded his face,
tufted it, so that when he turns he looks
like a slow child unhinging his face in a smile?
The coyote shambles, crow-hops, keeps his head low,
and without fur, his now visible pizzle
is a sad red protuberance,
his hind legs the backward image
of a bandy-legged grandfather, stripped.
Why have you unhoused this wretch
from his one aesthetic virtue,
taken from him that which kept him
from burning in the sun like a man?
Why have you pushed him from his world into mine,
stopped him there and turned his ear
toward my warning shout?
Under a mantle of snow,
under moss, sand and gravel,
under roots and schist, five feet of thin soil,
under the sanded pine boards of an undersized coffin,
under lace, under linen, shift poked with eyelets,
under a curtain of hair tied up for the afterlife,
cap stitched by sore fingers of a sister
under powdery skin, bone softened by acid,
blood gone black as the water dried away,
lies the desiccated heart of Freelove Hancox
who perished some time two centuries ago.
Her remaining purchase on the world of the living
is this headstone, dateless, spackled with lichen,
wheeled over by gulls, those persistent omnivores,
prayed over by windblown in off the bay.
What lies beneath this minimal marker?
What lingers in the folds of her funerary dress?
No secret note folded in a reticule,
mourning ring lost under an auction house floor?
The truth of you is chiseled into stone—
not my fantasy of your costume, but a name
once spoken over your infant head
presiding now over six feet of ground, which I find one morning
pushing past the gate wrought by a blacksmith,
set with care into a wall of granite
here in a cemetery in Stonington, Connecticut.