In the subdivision where my father lives, which is newer and nicer than my own, developers plow down the South Texas wilderness for new housing—only pockets of wilderness remain. Grand Canal Drive overlooks a strip of land that resembles resaca. We sight water and songbirds often. Sometimes we hear coyotes.
Coyote presence is a given all over the country, indigenous to the soil on which I stand—the United States and Northern Mexico—before their proliferating creep across the continent, coast to coast. I have always known them to wander our area, in body and in spirit. A school district a few towns over adopted the coyote as a mascot. I’ve only ever found live animals in fallible flashes, gone before second-glimpse certainty, but I have seen their prey: jackrabbits, squirrels, frogs. The native fruit, their fodder. You can sense coyotes, some nights, if you know what you are listening for—the yips and barks. You can learn how to distinguish their sound from that of the stray dogs, how to sift silhouette from shadow in the distance. Lank and limber. The eyes, some say, shine red in headlights.
Colonize. /ˈkäləˌnīz/ To come to settle among and establish political control over (the indigenous people of an area). To appropriate (a place or domain) for one’s own use. To (of a plant or animal) establish itself in (an area).
Coyote walks in whispers, moves like mist into the spaces we have created for him. He multiplies like magic. No need to terraform—he molds himself, pliable bone and blood, to desert, wood, jungle, concrete and steel. Shapeshifter. Near invisible, when he wants to be. When he knows to be afraid.
I live in a safe suburban neighborhood. I often forget to lock the back door of our home and have, on more than one occasion, left the sliding doors of our van completely open overnight only to find no damage, theft, or sign of trespassers aside from the mosquitos in wait of feasting on our skin the next day. Still, my husband insists I walk with pepper spray in my pocket when doing solo laps around the block. Just in case.
It is not uncommon to encounter strays transiting territories. Most of them are harmless. There was one that left a lasting impression; I couldn’t tell if it was a disheveled shepherd or a possible coyote. Maybe the animal was a blend of both, what some would call a coydog. He was leader to a pack of three dogs. Bigger than the others, the coydog was the only one who showed some history of ownership—he still wore a chain around his neck, which did nothing to restrain him. The second time I saw the strays, they stalked me as I walked the neighborhood. When I was about to round the corner that leads to the front of my house, the leader lunged. I didn’t stop, made quick time to my door, didn’t look back. I wonder now what level of threat lived in that moment. All I see is the adrenaline-marred memory. I didn’t carry pepper spray then, but I do now.
Survive. /sərˈvīv/ To continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship. To manage to keep going in difficult circumstances.
Coyote learns quickly. Coyote shows the gall and guile of a gangster, all tooth and stealth. He kills what only we would kill: sheep, cattle, deer. Takes what only we would take: foreground to horizon. And so we poison, trick and trap the animals, shoot them with bullets, drain them with disease. Rigid bodies, crumbling skin. Every day of every year, we add corpses to the pile. A ladder to the moon.
Still, Coyote walks among us.
Another trio of strays. The larger dog, clearly in charge, bore the wide, square head of a pit, and some padding around the neck and shoulders that suggested chow. Two little terrier mixes followed in his wake. The strays roamed the neighborhood for a week, followed me on walks, but scattered when addressed in the right tone, and soon the trio was down to two. Together they stood at a distance in a neighbor’s yard when the big dog pulled the smaller one under his body to mount, but the mutt was too short, and no contact was made. So much air remained between them. The small dog had his tongue out. He turned his head from one side to the other, waiting for something, then tried to extract himself, but the big one halted his progress with a paw to the shoulder, pulled him back under, fucking the open air.
Possess. /pəˈzes/ To have as belonging to one; to own. To take for one’s own. To maintain (oneself or one’s mind or soul) in a state or condition of patience or quiet.
Coyote stakes his claim on existence. We relent to the relentless. We make ghosts and monsters of his progeny. We restrict movement both without and within his frame. Downgrade a life-mate bond to laboratory breeding. We want them pure or not at all. Coyote filters through our fingers, sifting salt from water with a sieve.
When I finally scored a conclusive coyote sighting, it was of a corpse clipped by traffic, trapped in a permanent purgatory of roadside shoulder between brush and boulevard. There was no damage visible along the topside of the body; his peppered pelt bristled in the breeze. This sporadic motion of his fur stood in stark contrast to the sharp slash—muzzle to tail—perpendicular to solid white boundary. Tail pointing to the path from which he traveled; open maw ingesting arrested direction. Inverted arrow. Acute angle.
Melissa Nunez is a Latin@ writer and homeschooling mother of three from the Rio Grande Valley. Her work has appeared in Sledgehammer Lit, Yellow Arrow Journal, and others. She is also a staff writer for Alebrijes Review. She is inspired by observation of the natural world, the dynamics of relationships, and the question of belonging. You can follow her on Twitter @MelissaKNunez.
© Variant Literature Inc 2021