“Coyote Country” by Milton Bates

Milton Bates


for Taylor Mitchell, 1990–2009

If she loved anything more than music,
her mother said, it was nature. That’s why
she wouldn’t have wanted her killers killed 
for doing what coyotes do. 
       I thought
of that young folk singer, hiking alone
on Cape Breton Island, as they charged
toward me, churning up the snow, their eyes
on fire with the setting sun. Just then
a rabbit erupted from a swale between us
and juked around my boots. One coyote
followed left, the other right, so close
I could have stroked their fur.
             So they were real,
those phantoms whose frantic yipping I heard
late at night in counterpoint to sirens, 
as though that wail of human pain drove them 
to hysteria. My island was no Cape Breton, 
just a scruffy patch of county land 
lapped on all sides by city. Not wilderness, 
by any means, but not quite urban either, 
if animals like these could live there 
     They were pacing around
a pile of brush when I caught up with them, 
probing with paw and muzzle, too intent 
to notice me. I was luckier in my 
coyotes than she was, the day her love 
of nature went unrequited.
perhaps, I save my love for those who love 
me back. Yet I would hate to lose the little 
that remains of wildness where I live.
I left them to their hunt, returning home 
by streets that seemed no longer so familiar.

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

[download audio]


Milton Bates: “I’ve lived for all but a dozen of my seventy-plus years in the upper Midwest, most of them in Milwaukee, the self-proclaimed Machine Shop of the World. Like most Rust Belt cities, Milwaukee has had to re-invent itself since the days when my father and grandfather worked in its machine shops. That evolution, together with the city’s history of absorbing wave upon wave of immigrants, makes it a stimulating place in which to live and work. And we do work, whether making heavy machinery or poems. In few cities is the work ethic so revered and so strictly observed, even by artists and writers.”

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