Monday, November 06, 2006

Out there, it’s a cold bleak winter, and
the landscape beyond the windshield
lies frigid beneath a smattering of desiccated snow.
That multitude of unique crystal structures
has been forcibly blown into tiny like-minded cliques;
a mimeographed array of symmetrical little snowdrifts
that stand in unison to bear against anything
daring to rise up from the frozen soil.
In this case, it’s row upon row of corn stalks;
all cropped so many months ago.

I am somewhere on an interstate
heading south along the west border of Missouri.
It's a long empty segment of I-29
which skirts past towns with misplaced names
such as Savanna, Oregon and Mexico City.
My father is driving and I,
mature though still his son,
am once again to be found sitting
silently on the passenger side
with my feet up on the dashboard.

Once again?
Was this something I did in the past?
There as a young boy,
the dashboard was not so easily reached.
No. Nothing like this moment,
for now with my present size,
the placement of both soles to the dash’s molding
compresses my thighs and hips backwards
towards my chest in a very uncomfortable fashion.
Painful, but I suppose it just seems the thing to do.
There, sitting there next to him,
I find myself thinking of,
of all things,

Many years earlier,
when the distance to the dash
covered a much greater expanse,
the legs I had then, remained relatively straight,
and I, the younger boy,
sat on the passenger side
of a vaguely remembered maintenance van.
I was fast asleep as my father piloted us
through the late evening darkness
on a long stretch toward home.

I was startled back to consciousness
by my father's rough hand
reaching across from the steering wheel
to thump me on the upper arm.
This, and his voice bellowing that I should wake up
and see what's about to transpire.
As the sleep tore away and cleared from my head,
I could see that the same rough hand
was now pointing forward,
silhouetted against the windscreen
with its index finger angled downward
toward the obscured area just before the van.
The hand quickly returned to the steering wheel
and looking across to my father's face
I could see his teeth gleaming as he chuckled out loud.
I noticed that the van was accelerating at great speed
and highly curious as to what had generated such behavior,
I quickly dropped my legs from the dashboard,
and shot forward in my seat.

Pulling forward against the acceleration,
I looked down through the van's windshield
towards the asphalt directly below.
There, illuminated for a brief couple of seconds,
I made out the head, neck and gray-red mane
of a coyote at full run.
There, just before the front bumper,
I could see his hind quarters pumping furiously
amidst the twin beams of lights
that lit him from both sides.
No sooner does this all register in my mind
than my father's acceleration
overcomes the lesser speed of the coyote's
and it comes to pass beneath the bumper.

Sitting there,
looking out into the vacuum of darkness,
I feel the van convulse
as the under frame consumes, mangles,
and expels this one lone coyote out its rear.
I then slowly look back across to my father
and there his eyes are beaming
with the reflected illumination of our highbeams
shining far away down the highway.

A few years pass,
and I,
now a young man,
am out quail hunting with friends.
It's a cold Autumn day, and in transit
we are three across the bench of a large pickup truck.
It's a Midwest farm pickup so, of course
it comes complete with full mud flaps,
mounted tool box aft of the cab,
and gun rack full with assorted rifles.
In front of us yet another truck
hurtles down the gravel road,
its wheels kicking up a faint cloud of gray dust.
Suddenly, the truck begins to swivel back and forth,
and spewing gravel, comes to a skittering stop.
There, through its rear window, a flannelled arm
frantically points off towards the right.
Out across the field,
and no more than seventy yards away,
I now see what everyone is so frantic about.
There, traveling at speed,
a coyote has dared cross our path,
and is sprinting full hilt away from us.

From both vehicles,
every individual bolts from their doors and in turn,
empties the rifle racks of their contents.
Most of the other farm boys
grab medium to big-bore rifles,
but I am not to be empty handed
as someone throws me an
.22 automatic rifle complete with scope.

We are primal now.
For some reason, we know that we, in mass,
must kill this one lone coyote.
All erupting at once,
we spew forth tiny bits of high velocity lead
towards some four legged canine creature
we somehow now hate
to the point of wishing death.
I find I can’t be bothered to look through the scope,
for there is no time; no patience to be had.
Everyone else has already commenced
our group orgasmic outpouring
and I'm not to be left behind.

I don't know that I'm even aiming at all.
The barrel of the .22 is vaguely pointed towards
that of the object we so vehemently loath
and I find myself pulling and re-pulling the trigger
as fast as I possibly can.

Out there beyond the end of my rifle,
I see the dirt around the fleeing coyote
exploding upwards out of the
corn stalk stubbled earth and yet,
in spite of the lead projectile rain,
the coyote continues bolting forward,
upwards across the slope
and away from us,
apparently unaffected
from the contrary wishes of we,
the superior life forms.

Why am I doing this?
How is this moment, just now,
defining who I am as a person?
Have I not seen this action performed
somewhere; sometime
not long ago?

Years later,
I'm back to being somewhere on the I-29
and my hips hurt;
I'm tired, grumpy
and still these thoughts about coyotes.
Sitting there next to my father,
I think to myself
how you never seem to see them anymore,
or at least,
I don't anyway,
and just then…
amazingly at that precise moment…
I look off to my right
and see a single,
emaciated lone coyote
moving slowly
through the barren landscape
of this unforgiving climate.

From my left,
comes a few familiar words.
Something like:
"Look son.
There’s a coyote."

Yes, but this time
we pass it by.
This time,
it dies on its own.

©97 Jack Hubbell

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