Monday, April 28, 2014



Grampa (or not) Woody, who rode
the old trails from Tahlequah
to the stone bones of the Rocky's,
listened to the storyteller
tell the tale of how Coyote
stole fire from three witches,
three witches with three black
nails that gave the chipmunks

their three black stripes,
and how Coyote finally hid fire
in wood for the people to use.

Woody smiles a crooked brown
smile, just like Coyote.

Later, while tending his rattlesnakes
-snakes that cannot hear their own rattle-
Woody tells me another part
of that tale that few knew
-like the paths he took-

How the running Coyote
came across brother Snake,
who said he could hide the fire
in his den under the earth.

"It's worth a try..." Said Coyote,
but Snake, who in those days
had a magnificent pelt of soft fur,
burned with fire instead,
and became the hairless, hard-scaled one
with the shaking tail,
shaking to escape the fire
to this day.

On the western plains of Kansas
they are using the fire to burn off
last year's crop, Coyote's gift
and Snake's bane, a miles-long
ribbon of fire, curling,
shaking a thousand tails.

Somewhere Snake watches, terrified,
envious of his failed bravery
and his lost innocence, transfixed.

To this day, only witches
and snakes know
the real secret of fire:

We all want to hold it,
but forget we have to burn.

-Brandon Whitehead

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