Would a Coyote Lie?


by Mark Jarman

Is this world truly fallen? They say no.
For there’s the new moon, there’s the Milky Way,
There’s the rattler with a wren’s egg in its mouth,
And there’s the panting rabbit they will eat.
They sing their wild hymn on the dark slope,
Reading the stars like notes of hilarious music.
Is this a fallen world? How could it be?


And yet we’re crying over the stars again,
And over the uncertainty of death,
Which we suspect will divide us all forever.
I’m tired of those who broadcast their certainties,
Constantly on their cell phones to their redeemer.
Is this a fallen world? For them it is.
But there’s that starlit burst of animal laughter.


The day has sent its fires scattering.
The night has risen from its burning bed.
Our tears are proof that love is meant for life
And for the living. And this chorus of praise,
Which the pet dogs of the neighborhood are answering
Nostalgically, invites our answer, too.
Is this a fallen world? How could it be?

I thought of this poem last night when a dog barked outside. It’s unusual in this neighborhood. The dogs here are well-cared for and well-trained. They seldom find much to bark about. Listening to the dog, I began to wonder if the coyote I saw in the street a few years ago was making his rounds again. Probably it was just wishful thinking. It is mid-winter, and much of the time I feel trapped indoors.

We live in a time of shrillness, and too many of the voices in what currently passes for public discourse have taken to howling and barking. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” wrote Yeats. The problem is not new, and we find it everywhere.

In the current issue of Newsweek, a reader from California pronounces that “The president is a socialist ideologue…” In response to the same article, a reader in Connecticut insists that the president “has done nothing but capitulate to the right and to Wall Street.” The howl and the bark. Mr. California and Ms. Connecticut cannot both be right, and in this instance actually manage both to be wrong. They howl and bark to make stupid sound smart and scared sound strong.

The coyote doesn’t howl for emphasis because the howl is the message: “I am a coyote, and right now I am in this exact spot.” The dog barks in reply, “I am a dog, and right now I am in this exact spot.” It’s all true, and they are both right.

As always, the time is right now. As always, politics and punditry don’t have much to do with actual living. Knowing this, couldn’t we as human beings just try a little harder not to be stupid and scared and not to take it out on each other? Couldn’t we leave the howling and barking to the coyotes and dogs?

They’re really good at it after all, and we aren’t.

A Short Sad Story

It was only three days ago that I wrote enthusiastically about our new dog Mike. And now the story is over. This morning, I drove him back to Bethel.

I wish I knew exactly what went wrong. Instead of adapting and adjusting to living with us, Mike got more and more anxious. By last night, when Marge took him for a walk, he was afraid of people, other dogs, and even blowing leaves. Last night, he again refused to climb the stairs and spent most of the night whimpering downstairs because he was alone. By this morning, he wouldn’t go out on the back deck. Except when he was actually touching someone, he was whimpering.

On the way back to Bethel, he began panting and whimpering in the backseat of the car. I stopped the car, thinking that I needed to let him out, but that wasn’t the case. Once outside the car, Mike dropped into a crouch, shivering, panting and acting for all the world as if he feared being abandoned. That wasn’t right either, because then he didn’t want to get back into the car!

When I left Mike with the breeder, I said, “I feel terrible that we couldn’t make this work. I hope you can find a good home for Mike.”

The breeder’s response was icy: “That won’t be a problem.”

I wonder. Marge and I love dogs, and we have a lot of experience with Labs. As far as I know, we did just about everything right. Yet Mike was consumed by his own anxiety in less than three days. Maybe he can find a home with no stairs where he never has to be alone.