Ballad of the Last Coyote

By: Derek Berry
Winner of the Fall and Halloween Contest of 2014

I dreamt again of you,
this time alive, your skull intact.
This time no blood on the walls, no dirt between us,
your eyes still sparkling mischievous.
You were one of the trickster gods,
you sly Coyote of the pines.
We were arrogant anti-heroes
of the small town south
wielding our youth reckless—
these hatchet hearts pulsing with rust and blood.

But we left home behind,
left you behind in that strange, dark forest
where we learned grow savage together.
Our trigger-happy fingers grew lazy.
I moved to a holy city by the sea,
the pine trees become palms,
my horizon stretching further. So much to become
beyond that place, more than minor gods to a tiny planet.
So we forgot you, forgot to revisit the orbit where you remained.

After your funeral, your sister sobbed
that the police refused to give back the sawed-off shotgun.
Don’t know how she meant to keep a memento of your misery,
the weapon passed down from your grandfather,
but not the only inheritance.
Depression too was an heirloom for which you never asked,
left behind in your heart’s dusty attic for you to find at eighteen.

That same day I drove across the state to find where your family would bury you,
but we got lost—maybe on purpose—and only weeks later
could I come alone to perch by your grave, so fresh that no one
had yet purchased a tombstone.
If I had known weeks before, that night
you called me, told me you wanted so badly to see me,
maybe I could have played trickster god again,
pissed off my parents long enough to glimpse your face,
to see you again, not just in dreams.
Did you know then, that this might be the last time,
that you were trying to make our memories of you
appear more saint than sinner?
Did you know that our other friend told me,
when his brother killed himself,
that he passed the bridge every day, told his mother
how beautiful that view seemed to him?
Were you just trying to grasp something beautiful
one more time before saying goodbye?
Were you calling just to tip me off, as if to say,
brace yourself, this is going to fucking hurt?
Look, I don’t blame you. Before I kissed the ocean,
I thought the dirt could be the only place where I could swim.
Some of us just haven’t found a bridge beautiful enough.

Strange fact about our friends, we all were born with guns to our heads,
we beastly imitations of men,
we midnight lycanthropes that hick hunters tracked in the forest.
We were the immoral hucksters of a backwoods haven,
we heathens of Mayberry.
No wonder we seemed wild dogs to them.
Some of us still fight the urge to bite,
because Jackson still visits the therapist,
trying to scrub the image of your exploded skull
that you painted onto the inside of his,
Sean’s been looking down the barrel of a rum bottle,
and Wynston can’t drown out your screams
unless he’s got headphones on, the volume turned to forgetting.
I know that the pain must be less after you left this world,
but that ain’t true for those left behind.
When you left this world, we realized
how our fangs could frighten the world each time
we opened our mouths.
But you saved us from our full-moon transfiguration,
from the monsters stirring in our mirrors.

I dreamt again of you,
and this time you were not dead,
but instead a mass of teeth and fur,
a nightmare I will never wake up from.
To this town, you were just another coyote
they were glad they didn’t have to put down.
But I want you to be so much more—
a little brother, a friend, a boy
with so much time left, with so much more to become.