Joe Cottonwood has repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book is Random Saints. joecottonwood.com
Gruff gray Lester and Navaho Maggie
have no offspring but treat me like one.
For Lester I knock down a wall
and install fat rubber wheels under
the walnut monster of a double bed
they’ve shared 60 years—so he can roll
Maggie to the dining room and kitchen.
Magpie of Dawn, Lester says.
She keeps an eye on me.
Maggie’s delighted, joking and chattering
room to room sometimes in Navaho
and you get used to the scent of urine.
Rolling is difficult for Lester who limps
and later more cumbersome with oxygen tanks
so I’m replacing cupped floor boards
when Maggie who is watching me work
points to a pair of coyotes—
one large wary male, one smaller calm female—
outside the window sitting on haunches
by the broken-down tractor staring right at us,
not unusual for a ranch house outside town but
then we hear a gurgling sound like water in a drain.
Lester a big man leaps to Maggie’s side.
Bends his head to her heart while outside
in broad daylight those coyotes start to howl.
The two. Aroo-oo.
The air itself seems to glow.
Lester grabs his rifle from the wall and runs
to the window but those coyotes don’t flinch.
He lowers the gun with shaky hand,
says They’re calling her home.
A couple weeks later after the service
Lester in his old wedding suit tight and ragged
hands me a cardboard box containing the wheels
he’s removed and there’s a note:
For the next. Help them go home.
Now I’m no coyote but that box is
on the top shelf in the garage.
I’m telling you, son, so you’ll know.