Coda BK LOREN
What It Is that Feeds Us
COYOTES ARE consummate illu sionists. Take a western land scape, a few piñon pine gnarled
like arthritic knuckles, chamisa blooming
like handfuls of sunlight, mesas miraged
in the distance, and there, on that wide ho
rizon, they will materialize. Where there
was nothing, now there is something,
longlegged, loping. They give you their
toughguy glance and, panting, they move
on. You barely believe you’ve seen them
before they sink back into the earth. You
think of the word vanish, and understand
the sound of it now, the hard v at the be
ginning, the hush by the time it ends, how
quickly something comes to nothing.
The Hubble telescope pointed its pow
erful lens at a bigger expanse of nothing
ness than any poet’s wasteland could ever
define, and more than ten thousand galax
ies appeared, 78 billion lightyears away,
the distant past of them emerging before
our eyes in a place that was once empty.
Place is never empty.
When I was a kid, my brother told me
the Rocky Mountains surrounding our
home were wolves, their jagged shoulder
blades hunched up, heads lowered. Their
coats changed with the seasons: snow
white in winter, granite gray in summer.
But to me the mountains looked like a
sleeping dragon. The crags to the north:
the spiny tail. The lumpy hogbacks to the
south: the dragon’s snout. I have always
needed stories. Mountains were my first
stories. They’ve been telling my life over
and over ever since.
Now I am a writer, and I understand
characters as bodies of land; they rise up
from place like coyotes, like mountains,
like me. I see the red dirt of Colorado
and it looks like the marrow of my bones:
gritty, rustcolored mud.
Without place, all stories become
weightless, their characters dangling from
dogeared pages, hoping for a word to give
them marrow, bone, body. Even the way
we speak is formed by wind whistling
across certain landscapes, the words of
New Yorkers streetwise enough to turn
corners too early, dropping r’s as they run
to grab a cab; and the voice of a rural girl
saying haa-ay, making it two syllables, as
if she had all the time in the world.
Without place, every sentence is from
For years after I’d grown, after my par
ents died, I lived in my childhood home.
Over my lifetime, the small field behind
the house had become a Hubble galaxy.
On first glance: some land. Years later:
the migrations of birds I knew better than
any calendar could predict, down to the
day—Swainson’s hawks in midMarch,
barn swallows in May. The turn of the
day ticked in my ears like the rhythms of
wings flying home. Night saturated me:
howls of coyotes in the fields, wind skitter
ing across ponds, predawn meadowlarks
singing. The sound of the nearby train
rumbled through my sleeping, a comfort,
not an intrusion.
When I am embraced in place, I don’t
need to buy anything to organize my life.
Each step appears in the sway of the day. I
don’t need anything to fill me. I sense what
is possible, my day brimming with discov
ery where there was once familiarity, the
land a palimpsest that layers with time.
The pretense that place does not mat
ter turns us all into straw dogs subjected
to the whims of marketing. If we are
unattached, we need. We need so many
things. If we point the lens into the core
of us and no galaxy appears, then what?
We dangle, storyless, bland words roll
ing across the windy landscapes of our
tongues. We stay awake all hours of the
night, peering out windows, until, at last,
we let go of longing and accept the con
stellations that connect us all. We rest
our eyes on a horizon that tells a story
from the bones out, embraces us from
the skin in, lets us rise from the dust of
where we’ve been and where we are, like
coyotes, hunting, hungry, finally know
ing exactly what it is that feeds us. A