MAY: Poetry: Coyote

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Coyote might have gone

the way of buffalo or beaver

but he learned to smell strychnine

in the snares, taught himself not to eat

the trappers’ tainted meat.

 

Shifting his boundaries

he followed bulldozers

east through razed woodlands

skulking into clearings

foraging up-turned earth

for insect eggs and baby mice

until he wound up on a truck farm in New Jersey

gulping down blackberries, stripping

savory bushes till his chin ran red.

 

Now he ranges around Boston

Pensacola and Poughkeepsie,

lured into a maze of safe sidewalks

by the pull of painted T-shirts

carved fetishes of thread-wrapped stone.

 

People should consider who they conjure:

dung-eater, prophet-with-no-honor,

liar, iconoclast, thief…

 

Trickster Coyote, casting moon shadows

haunting suburban hedges

beating the odds.

COYOTE

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coyote1Coyote might have gone

the way of buffalo or beaver

but  he learned to smell

strychnine in the snares,

taught himself not to eat

the trappers’ tainted meat.

 

Shifting his boundaries

he followed bulldozers

east through razed woodlands,

skulking into clearings,

foraging the up-turned earth

for insect eggs and baby mice

until he wound up on a truck

farm in New Jersey

gulping down blackberries,

stripping the savory bushes

till his chin ran red.

 

Now he ranges around Boston

Pensacola, and Poughkeepsie

lured into a maze of safe sidewalks

by the pull of painted T-shirts

and carved fetishes of thread-wrapped stone.

 

People should consider who they conjure:

dung-eater, prophet-with-no-honor,

liar, iconoclast, thief; Trickster Coyote

casting moon shadows,

haunting suburban hedges,

beating the odds.

©2000 Christine Irving

MAY: Coyote Fights a Lump of Pitch

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Coyote Fights a Lump of Pitch
White Mountain Apache.

Coyote is always stealing ears of wheat from the White People’s fields. The Farmer decides the best way to catch Coyote is to create a “Man of Pitch.” He creates the Man of Pitch and puts it in the middle of Coyote’s path. Later Coyote comes along and sees the “Man” and tells him to step aside. When the Man doesn’t move Coyote gets angry.  “Get over,” says Coyote. “Let me pass.” After repeatedly telling the “Pitch Man” to move, Coyote warns him about the his fist that has killed many. Coyote ends up like Brer Rabbit all stuck to the Pitch Man. In the morning the farmer comes and puts a chain around Coyote’s neck and takes him to the house. “This is the one stealing from me,” he tells his family. They have a meeting and decide to put Coyote in a pot of boiling water. They
set the water on to heat and put chained up Coyote next to the side of the house. Pretty soon Coyote sees Gray Fox coming along, loafing around. Coyote calls him over. “My cousin,” he says, “There are lots of things cooking for me in that there pot.”  He gestures towards the pot that’s heating water to scald him. “There are potatoes, coffee, bread, and all kinds of food for me cooking in that pot and if you want we can share.  It’ll be done soon but first I need your help.” He tells Fox, “Would you put this chain around your neck while I go and urinate behind that bush?” Fox agrees and puts the chain around his neck. Coyote runs into the bushes, but he doesn’t stop. He keeps on running. When the White man comes out and sees that the water is hot he turns to Coyote and sees Gray Fox. The White
man is puzzled but he picks up Gray Fox and throws him into the boiling water. The water burns all Gray Fox’s hair off. Then the Farmer realizes that the creature is a fox which is to small and skinny for him to eat,  he becomes annoyed and plucks fox out of the pot and throws him into the bushes.

That night Gray Fox sets out to find Coyote. He is so angry he wants to kill him. But again Coyote tricks Fox and runs away.

MAY: “Coyote, Iktome, and the Rock.”

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“Coyote, Iktome, and the Rock.”

White River Sioux

On a warm day, Coyote and Iktome, (Spider man),  are hiking along and see a big beautiful rock with moss veins. Coyote decides to give his Indian blanket to the Rock. He says, “Why this is a nice-looking rock. I think it has power.”  He places his thick blanket on the rock and says, “Here, Iya, take this as a present. Take this blanket, friend rock, to keep warm so you will not freeze. You must feel cold.”

Coyote turns to his friend Iktome and tells him, “I’m always giving things away. The rock, Iya, looks real nice in my blanket.” “His blanket, now”, says Iktome.

Later that week when it starts raining, and it is quite cold,  Coyote has second thoughts about his Giveaway. He wants his nice thick blanket back. He and Iktome have gone into a cave to keep dry but Coyote is shivering from the cold.  He tells his friend to go back to Iya and get the blanket.

When Iktome asks the rock for the blanket, the rock says no.  He reminds Iktome, “What is given is given. Iktome goes back and tells Coyote. Coyote is outraged, goes to the Rock, and demands the blanket back. “No!” says the rock, “What is given is given.” Coyote jerks the blanket away. “Don’t you care that I am freezing to death? I could catch a cold.” Wrapping the blanket around him self, Coyote says, “There, that’s the end of it.” The rock says, “By no means is this the end.”

Coyote, wrapped in the blanket, goes back to the Cave and he and Iktome wait out the storm. When the sun comes out Coyote and Iktome, go out side and sun them selves. After a while Iktome says, “What’s that noise?” “What noise?” “A crashing, a rumble far off.” says Iktome. Then they see the great rock rolling, thundering, and crashing down upon them. “Run,” says Coyote. They run as the great rock, Iya follows. They swim the river, and Iya follows. They run in the thick forest, and Iya follows. Wherever they go, Iya follows until they run out into the flats.

“Oh no” says Iktome, this is not really my quarrel and he rolls himself into a tiny ball and disappears down a mouse hole. Coyote runs as fast as he can but the big rock is close on his heels. Then Iya, the big rock, rolls right over Coyote, flattening him out altogether. Iya takes the blanket and rolls back to his own place, saying, “So there!”

A rancher riding along sees Coyote lying there all flattened out. “What a nice rug.” He says rolling Coyote up. He takes the Coyote rug  home and puts it in front of his fireplace. Whenever Coyote is killed, he can make himself come back to life, but this time Coyote takes the whole night to pull himself up into his usual shape. In the morning, the rancher’s wife tells her husband, “I just saw your rug running away.”

Now, Friends, hear this: Always be generous in heart. If you have something to give, give it forever.

Coyote as Trickster

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Coyote says, “RUN!”

In this story of Coyote, we discover that he does not understand the cultural rules about gift giving. When he returns and demands the Rock, Iya, give his blanket back Coyote has disregarded the cultural belief that what is given is given forever.  He is reminded that the blanket is no longer his by Iktome who says, “It is Iya’s blanket now!” Coyote still thinks of the blanket as being his.

When Iya tells Coyote “NO” because he likes having the blanket.” Coyote explains that it is cold out and he needs HIS blanket back. He tells Iya he doesn’t want to catch a cold.  Yet,  Iya still says “NO!” This makes Coyote angry. Coyote just takes the blanket and leaves.  Iya warns him that it is not over.

There have been times in my life when I have not understood the rules or the person I’m dealing with seems to have a different set of rules that I don’t understand.  The whole idea of etiquette or manners is to make social interchanges comfortable and pleasant.

The newspaper columnist Dear Abby or the writer Emily Post are often asked about what manners and/or etiquette rules apply in very specific social situations. Not all rules are written down. In addition, as our society becomes more and more complex new rules have to be established.

My collage this week shows the Rock chasing Iktome and Coyote through the river. Coyote has his blanket flapping behind him. The over all collage depicts a patchwork broader suggesting that the entire piece is a blanket. The reason for the dispute.

Despite the fact that rocks don’t need blankets and Coyote did make the mistake of giving his away, Coyote cannot be an “Indian Giver”.  He cannot expect the Rock to give the blanket back. As the Rock explained, “What is given, is given.”

Coyote’s Blanket

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Coyote's blanket

Coyote’s blanket

One of the best things for me about my friendship with Michelle is how differently we view things.   Over the years we have both benefited from an expansion of vision, learning from each other how to see from a different perspective.  We’ve learned to trust each other’s vision and follow along even  when we don’t “get it” right away.

Last week, I was utterly swamped, enmired in a project with a deadline I was having trouble meeting, so when Michelle offered to pick the story and present it, I was delighted.  We’d agreed earlier that we wanted to work with a Native American tale and Trickster Coyote is an old favorite of ours.  We created a workshop around him several years ago, using collage to do shadow work.  Coyote loves to dance with the shadow and he proved a perfect mentor for those workshops.  Still, when Michelle picked this blanket story it left me at a bit of a loss.  It’s a teaching story, so it must be teaching something, but what?  It seemed way too elaborate a set-up to say something so obvious.

It wasn’t until I finished my collage that I realized what a big part landscape plays in this story.  First of all Coyote’s antagonist is a rock!  It’s one thing to see a biological creature as a character in a story but a talking stone that feels cold…?  Then there’s that detailed description of all the places Coyote runs through with the rock chasing him – hills, thick forest, a river, prairie.

As it happens the project I’d been working on was a talk and slide show about pilgrimage.  It’s my contention that our human habit of going on pilgrimage is a direct result of the nomadic lifestyle practiced by all Homo sapiens for at least 40,000 years.  I won’t repeat my reasoning here, suffice it to say my theory has to do with the importance of landmarks.

In part this story seems to talk about the importance of maintaining and honoring an intimate relationship with one’s geography.  The intimacy is underlined by the symbol of the blanket.  In many Native American traditions blankets are strongly associated with the bonds of kinship.  When publically given, a blanket acknowledges those ties to the whole community. In this story we see Coyote giving the rock the blanket in front of Iktome.  He makes a point of the gift, proclaiming the change of ownership in front of a witness.  His failure to respect his relationship with the land (symbolized by the rock – think basics, bedrock, bones of Earth, foundation) has dire consequences from which he barely recovers; just as our failure to maintain a relationship with the land results in floods, landslides, and dust storms that flatten us.

You see how my faith in Michelle’s vision is justified?  This story contains a powerful teaching for me.  Not only as a concept but also more immediately; I spent all last week hunched over my computer.  I did manage to walk every morning, but I walk with a friend and we talk the whole time, so I haven’t really been outside and present for days.  This collage made me long to be out alone under the sky, tiny as distant Coyote in my picture. – I think I’ll take tomorrow off and go wrap the landscape around me like a blanket…

Key word for the year- sponteneity

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Spon·ta·ne·i·ty

spän(t)əˈnēədē,ˌspän(t)əˈnāədē/

Noun: the condition of being spontaneous; spontaneous behavior or action.

          “she occasionally tore up her usual dress in favor of spontaneity”

Hello, aloha, zdrastuyte, ahoj,

Please forgive our long silence, in the intervening months we have been searching for a new mutually compatible prompt to spur us on or, more accurately, lure us in another direction. I finally came up with the idea, which I doubt is original, of exchanging images as prompt. We’ll each send the other a package of 7 – 10 images. The recipient may discard up to three but must use the rest in a collage. The discarded ones will be returned to donor and she must use at least 1 in her next collage. the idea is to make something which does not attempt to illustrate a theme or an idea and is created simply as a spontaneous act of creation.

We do understand how very tricky the unconscious can be. Coyote is always prowling around our borderlands. Our clamoring minds as well always want to play- so we will write something about our what we think it might all mean or else create a poem or story to go with it. Hopefully calming both sides of our minds will calm things down and make room for other voices to emerge. The question we want to use is: What has this collage got to tell me that I don’t already know?

To add a further twist, Michelle made us both beautiful books with twelve, gorgeous, blank, pristine pages on which to create our masterpieces. They will be a kind of art journal, underscoring the fact we are not producing these collages for an audience. (You know how in the Music Man Professor Harold Hill says, “I always think there’s a band, kid?” It’s one of my all-time favorite lines, along with Archangel Michael’s, “And you just gotta remember, Sparky – no matter what they tell you – you can never have too much sugar.. .”For me, there’s always an audience. Hence the sop, which includes this blog.

Here’s my new collage, happily ensconced on the first page of my beautiful journal.  It’s made of watercolor paper, with several flaps, pockets and interjections to make it more interesting. I’m hoping Michelle will tell you how to make it or at least give out a link. All the images except for the background, elfish female, green plant and the persimmons are ones Michelle sent to me.  The green elf in the center is a picture of mine she sent back.  She found my elf creepy and ugly. She seems winsome, bold and magical to me- no accounting for all the mysterious associations lurking beneath the surface of our psyches.  The mythic always pops up in my collage and here, once again,  The Triple Goddess. I’ve been reading about Ireland so maybe that’s why this fey green creature appeals so much.  I think she’s the crone of the trio; because she’s fairy folk her five hundred odd years sit easy on her. The doors interest me- perhaps they lead to another world- theirs or ours, which one do the viewers inhabit?  And I just love that spiral pillar though I had to chop off the static bronze flame it originally held, and add a bit of ” green fuse.”  The buttons are cut from a larger strip of paper, itself cut from a printed page.  I couldn’t figure out where to put them so I pasted them on the peacock’s eyes.  There’s a rich vein of meaning to plunge!  Actually, I was thinking of the Neil Gaiman based movie, Coraline, in which the bad mother substitutes buttons for real eyes.. Scary, creepy and clever,clever metaphor.  This collage holds an air of expectancy for me.  Like the moment when the heroine hovers on the top  step of the basement stairs before continuing her descent. Hhmmm…

 

The Light Bringer

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The Light Bringer Scan_Pic0019The Raven

Magic is in the air when Raven is present. The other day while at the coffee shop I was looking out the widow at the parking lot. High above everything perched on top of the tall light pole sat a bird. His outline fully formed against the light blue sky. It is a rather large size black bird with a prominent beak. He intrigued me so I watched him for a while.

Was he a Crow or a Raven?  A Raven for sure. A Raven is a member of the Crow family but a larger king-size cousin. This fellow was big. Two small birds joined him. They moved to the outer parameters of the light standard giving the Raven a wide berth. Crows and Ravens are the smartest of all birds having outwitted other birds, animals and humans from time to time. There are lots of Myths and stories about them. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a poem called, The Raven.

They are kept at the Tower of London, England. The Tower of London is located on White Hill and one legend tells of the Ravens always living there. Another legend is that after the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Tower was rebuilt and the ravens arrived. The British believe that “It is very unlucky to kill a Raven” and so they keep them as good luck symbols. The Tower Ravens are cared for by a Keep. Each Raven is named, fed and treated like a soldier. The Tower Ravens live to be 40 years old. Besides having one wing’s flight feathers clipped away, they have free rein of the Tower and the grounds. A Raven can be dismissed from the Tower grounds for “Conduct unbecoming of a Tower resident.” Otherwise, the Raven’s live a comfortable life.

In Rome, the Raven is associated with the God Apollo, the god of prophecy. They are considered good luck and a messenger from heaven who speaks to us. One myth tells the story of why Ravens are black.   In the story Ravens were as white as swans. One day a Raven brought bad news to Apollo who in his anger turned the Raven black. Since then all Ravens are black.

In Norse tradition, the God Odin had two Ravens who were his messengers.  Odin could shape-shift into a raven. In Biblical lore, the prophet Elijah was fed by Ravens and Crows while hiding in the wilderness. To the Athapaskan Indians of Alaska,  Raven was the creator of the world.

Ravens are symbols of watchfulness. They often perch high in the trees and can see for miles. Their Croak sound is so jarring that all can hear.  They can be taught to speak and are members of the songbird family . They have quite a range of vocalizations but they do not sing.

In many ways, the Raven is an animal that plays the confusing role of the trickster and the wise one.  Raven is comparable to the Coyote tales told by the Plains Indians.  In the Pacific North West, the Raven has this same aura about him. Raven stole the sunlight and gave it to the people of the Earth. He is playful and an excellent tool user. He cracks open nuts using stones.  In fact, many folks believe that Raven knows  he is  smart. He has chosen to remain a  crows rather then move on to some other area of evolution.  Raven  is associated with creation. The color of night, he brings forth the new day.  He is the light bringer.

Guest Artist Kathryn Phillips

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Meet Kathryn Phillips who took up our invitation to visit the virtual studio and join the fun.  I hope you enjoy her work as much as we do and that you too will be inspired by one of the stories that inspire us.  Or send us a suggestion for a story and or your own work around it.  We’ll be happy to post it along with your comments.

Following pieces are by Kathryn Phillips.  The comments are hers. Have a question?  We’ll pass it along.

Brementown Musicians 1

This first pair is about the Musicians of Bremerhaven. One shows the idyllic life our elderly “heroes” so justly deserved.

 

Brementown Musicians 2 Fight      Brementown Musicians 3

But wait, they had no more “right” to terrorize and then brutalize the lone robber than the robbers had to the same to  unfortunates who crossed their paths. The musicians INITIATED the the whole action and felt justified in doing so because they had been oppressed by other humans. A slippery slope indeed. This is why the musicians faces are superimposed upon the medieval bandits, and the woman being victimized also shows a two-sided character. One assumes she may be an innocent, but who knows what evil she may have committed?

In the final picture, I found the star wars monster already embedded in the snowy photo, but I added details to make it the monster the robber imagined…

Coyote and Blanket

The first depicts the beauty that is the natural world, with coyote paying homage to Rock and Iktome acting as witness.

Cartoon coyote

The second uses graphic images we see everyday in mass media driven America.

Iktome – Spiderman

Trickster Coyote – Wile E. Coyote

Rock – Rolling Stones

White rancher (gullible buffoon) – Woody Pride

Coincidences based on archetypes or native American symbols co-opted by mainstream culture? Aside from sports team (Braves, Redskins, etc.), what other images do we de-mystify and devalue by making them into caricatures? What subtleties are lost when the inactive message is lost to passive massage (Marshall McLuhan) of prepackaged ideas?

Iktome and the Ducks

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Hi everyone we got off to a slow start on this final May Trickster story, but then working with this guy is never easy.  Trickster will trick you one way or another whenever he is invoked.  When Michelle and I decided to give a shadow workshop using Coyote as our guide, I spent a long time figuring out how to as call him in safely as possible.  My research uncovered the fact that he is a very good father so when I called in the directions and welcomed him in from the south, I asked him to treat us as his pups with gentle tricks and small lessons.  Which, he did.  It’s very important to honor these powerful spirits and treat them with careful respect because they come both as clown and creator.

Iktome the Spider man belongs mostly to the folk of the plains, particularly the Dakota.  If you’ve read the story, you know that Iktomi the shape-shifter likes to dress like a Dakota in the paint and deerskin leggings and beaded tunic of a brave.  Nevertheless, my collage uses a totem pole from a northwestern tribe – it portrays Raven, our other Trickster, but the bill reminded me of a duckbill and the face beneath the bird seemed to be painted as a spider.  Originally, I planted a big teepee where the totem pole now sits.  I painted it with black encircled eyes, red and yellow stripes and filled the corners with spider webs.  However, while searching my files for duck pictures I came across this other image and regrouped.  I wanted to show that the Earth gives birth to and is home to gods and guides as well as spiders, ravens, rabbits, coyotes and humans.

One of the things Trickster stories teach us is to be flexible and try alternative ways to solve our problems.  The stories don’t necessarily say this directly instead they show us trickery is a never-ending part of life.   Whatever we do, as ducks or Trickster, something will happen to change our circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly whether or not we are minding our own business, being “good”or “bad.”

These teaching stories are difficult to figure out and often carry multiple meanings – they remind me of Buddhist koans.  A koan is a short anecdote, usually recording an encounter between student and teacher.  It poses a question requiring more than intellect to figure out (i.e.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”)  The idea is to arouse the student to a state of exaggerated inquiry or “Great Doubt”.  A koan builds up “strong internal pressure (gidan), never stopping knocking from within at the door of [the] mind, demanding to be resolved.”

Trickster stories do the same thing,  Why does the tree catch hold of Iktome?  The ducks are prey animals anyway.  Is it so bad to go in an ecstatic dance?  Does the story warn us about the dangers of using trance without the proper ritual?   Why does Iktomi act so stupid in the presence of the wolves?  His behavior makes no sense, especially when he repeats his “mistake”.  We know that repetition in a story, poem or song points to something important, but I still haven’t figured it out and it won’t “stop knocking.”

Usually the point of a koan is to teach the concept of non-duality.  I think Native American stories also center on the connection of all things and our common existence as parts of Great Spirit.  Perhaps the wolves need feeding for some larger purpose we are not privy too.  Sounds too much like blind faith to me, but what if it’s something about our own wolf nature, which needs feeding?  That rings more true.  At least it’s a starting place…