Friday, May 12, 2017

I Wish I'd Written This

The Coyote And The Peacock

For beauty, the coyote carried the peacock
across the desert in his teeth.
The sand was a sear on his paws,

but his trot was steady, and his grip was gentle.
Six sleeps, six fires in the sky.
Six star spun lullabies, six wakings.
For beauty, the coyote carried the peacock
across the desert in his teeth.

For beauty, the coyote swam the river
with the peacock slung on his back.
The blood warm current dragged
at his fur.  The mud mother
called for his bones.  But his paddle
stayed sure and his head held
just high enough above the water.
For beauty, the coyote swam the river
with the peacock slung on his back.

In the desert and river, beauty's as fleeting
as sugar dissolved on the tongue.  The river
stained the peacock's feather a dull red.
The desert blemished his eyes
near blind.  The coyote looked, but could not find
the beauty that he had carried and that had carried
him so far.  The coyote learned that beauty is beauty
is beauty, but is not love.
The peacock learned the hunger of a coyote.

– Kelli Simpson ('Mama Zen')



Kelli Simpson describes herself as 'a mother and poet living in Norman, Oklahoma'. She says that she 'still believes in newspapers, books with pages, and poetry that rhymes'.

We know her better as Mama Zen of 'another damn poetry blog'.
Besides the blog, Kelli's work has most recently appeared in Bop Dead City, Cape Rock Poetry, Five: 2: One #sideshow, andThe Five-Two


I wish I'd written many of Kelli's poems, actually – and this one in particular. It appeared on her blog very recently and was shared in our latest Poetry Pantry; many of you will have seen it already. 

I normally wouldn't share something again here quite so soon; I'd let you forget it awhile, so you could then relate to it (almost) anew. But there's no way you're going to forget this one; it's so outstanding. So let's enjoy it again right now.

It has interesting origins! When I asked Kelli what she herself might say about it, she told me: 
'When I started this poem, I was actually thinking about illegal immigration on the U.S. southern border.  Down there, human smugglers are called coyotes.  That was the seed. The poem that sprouted from it is quite different, but I think strains of the original idea are still evident once you know that they are there.'


Yes, I think so too. The peacock being carted like cargo across desert and river, for instance. Also, Coyote is the trickster, and I imagine people smugglers must be pretty tricksy. And when the living cargo are no longer of use to the smugglers, they may end up dead – at least, that is sometimes what happens to those who try to reach Australia from other countries; I expect it is much the same the world over.


But some poems have minds of their own and dictate the way they want to go. This poem did indeed become something else. In the comments at Kelli's blog, I called it a fable and several people agreed with me. Someone likened it to Aesop's. Others said it was even more than that: a parable. Googling definitions ruled out parable however, on the grounds that, while both are stories with a moral lesson, parables don't include animals or inanimate objects as characters. Fables do. 


Certainly both characters in the poem learn a lesson at the end, though perhaps not quite so straightforwardly 'moral' as those in Aesop's fables. 

It could be described as 'mythic' too – closely related to 'fable' – except that myths usually explain some social or natural event, and here there is no such explanation. Instead there is mystery. For instance, the number six – what's that all about? It might just be the time the journey happened to take, but the repetitions seem to invest that particular number with deep meaning, albeit a meaning we can't grasp. It feels magical. We have been taught that seven is a magical number, and if it was that we could accept and almost gloss over it – but six? That must be a very specific magic, which no-one's told us about before. Yes, a mystery. (A gentle mystery at that point, with the coyote careful of the precious peacock.)


So the story is intriguing, fascinating, appealing to something primal in us that hungers for desert and stars and epic journeys. But even more than the story, I respond emotionally, viscerally, to the beautiful language – the cadences, the repetitions, the subtle alliterations, the imagery and phraseology, the measured rhythms that make even the most arresting ideas seem absolutely right. ('The mud mother / called for his bones'; 'the beauty that he had carried and that had carried / him so far'.)


It calls to our imaginations, persuades us with its narrative and its language, and then saddens us with the inevitability of the ending. It seems a fragment of some whole mythic world in which the coyote and the peacock exist. I want one (any) of my favourite fantasy authors to create that world and show me where these two characters fit. At the same time, I don't really want them explained and contextualised; that would destroy their splendid mystery. I'm glad the poem leaves room for our own imaginings. 


'Fable' is  the origin of the word 'fabulous'. In every sense, this is surely a fabulous poem.




Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.

19 comments:

  1. I am SO glad you shared this. This was one of the most amazing poems I've ever read. Yes, "mythic" I think would be the proper label.

    I, for one, am thrilled to have not written this, but to have instead had the honor of being one of the first readers; I am deeply impacted by Kelli's brilliance and skill (and yes, beauty).

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    1. That's a good point! It certainly was a great pleasure to read.

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  2. Yes!!!! This poem knocked me out. Kelli, you have outdone yourself with this beautiful poem. And Rosemary, I love what you have written about it. You gave me more ways to think of and appreciate it. The language is stunningly beautiful, the story it tells is mesmerizing. To have written ONE poem this magical is an accomplishment. And to think, this poet writes poem after brilliant poem. SUCH a pleasure to read them. Thank you both, ladies, for a wonderful feature.

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  3. Yes, I loved it before, and love it again today! Thank you so much for featuring this poet and her poem!!! Yeah!!! It is a "wonder!!"

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  4. Wow! Thank you for recognizing this beauty, Rosemary and thank you for writing it MZ. Only you could have written it! What blows my mind is the repetition of Beauty. The coyote must have quite a yearning for it to hoard and then carry carry carry Beauty thinking to better his life. I feel for them both. I think the Peacock knew about a coyote's hunger, but the coyote will not learn much about Love or Beauty. He'll more than likely do it again--whether he's human or beast.

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  5. Rosemary, this is such a beautiful write-up! I am honored and so grateful. Thank you!

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    1. Believe me, this poem was a great pleasure to engage with.

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    2. Behind the scenes, Rosemary and I did a bit of tussling, over who would get the privilege of featuring it. Hee hee. I am glad Rosemary won. Rosemary, this is a wonderful presentation. Kelli, you are a brilliant poet!!

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    3. Ha ha, I already confided to Kelli the story of how, as soon as I saw the poem, I emailed you even before contacting her to say, 'Don't you dare grab this one; I MUST have it!' I knew I had to be quick; I knew you'd be blown away by it too. And sure enough you emailed back, 'AAARGH! I was just about to ask her'. But it was all with the greatest good humour. Just as well we are – as Aussies say – good mates. And thanks for letting me have it.

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    4. You did it proud, my friend. I'm glad I deferred. It is too hilarious, when we start racing each other to poems. I felt quite the poetry vulture. Cackle.

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  6. Not only do I wish I'd written this poem, but I wish I could write such an elegant and fitting analysis.
    This poem is a classic in my mind. It mesmerized me from the very first lines.

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  7. Thanks so much, Rosemary, for publishing this again. I hadn't subscribed to Poets United until recently. With this first post, I'm certainly glad I did! Sensational poem!

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    1. Isn't it just! We hope to keep delighting you, in many and varied ways. (Smile.)

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  8. Thanks so much for showcasing this poem of incredible beauty. I love that fable quality about it, and the mysteriousness.

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  9. glad to see this highlighted again. And Rosemary, you are most certainly correct - fable not parable. I was the one erred, in my encomium. this piece stands along any great fable. ~

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    1. You weren't the only one. And I think we all understood what you were getting at. It was only when I Googled for this post, to get the precise meaning, that I found out it didn't apply.

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  10. This is wonderful! I wish I could find it in myself to spread my wings and have a go at poetry that is this imaginative ... but, alas, I am not there. Perhaps someday ~sigh~

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    1. Wendy, to me it reads like one of those that comes 'through' rather than from the poet (though of course we may tweak and polish afterwards). I wonder what would happen if you just invited something so imaginative to come through you, and opened yourself to it...? On the other hand, I think it's great that poetry is so richly various. :)

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