Native American Poetry, Poems and Literature…Coyote master of life true to death…American Indian Poetry and Poems. From “Coming to Light – Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America” Edited by Brian Swann.


Panther and his brother lived there,
     he together with Coyote.
Coyote had a daughter,
     Panther indeed also had a daughter.

Now then Panther’s daughter fell ill,
     she died.
Now then Panther said,
     “I will go see my brother.”
Now then he said to his brother, Coyote,
     “How is your heart about it?
     When a person dies,
     The fifth day he will come back?”
Coyote said nothing.
Again indeed he said to his brother,
     “How is the thing I told you?”
Coyote said,
     “No. It must not be that way.
     If it were to be that way where people live,
          the number of people would be endless.
     Better that a person die for all time.
     For all time he will be gone.”
Panther said,
     “Ohh no! Brother!”
     Better really that they come back.”
Coyote said,
     “Not now!
     Everything that is,
          the black water bugs themselves would say,
               ‘Where are we to stay?’
Coyote said,
     “Let it be that way when a person dies.
     That way he will indeed die for all time.”
Panther said,
     “Your own heart.”

Native American Poems and Poetry

Now then Panther went back.
     He wept.
          He buried his daughter.

Now then one year later Coyote’s daughter fell ill,
     she died.
Now then Coyote said,
     “Well now brother!
     Let it be the very way you told me.
Panther said,
     “It cannot be that way now.”
Coyote said,
     “Ohh it would be better that people come back,
     on the fifth day they awaken.”
Panther said,
     “Not now!
     You already said,
          ‘When a person dies,
          he is to be dead indeed for all time.’
     You spoke that way,”
          Panther said.

Now then Coyote went back,
     he wept and wept,
          he got back home,
               he said,
                    “I will go myself”
He said to his daughter,
     “I will go myself.
     We will go together.”
His daughter said,
     “You can’t follow me now.
     It is another kind of country where I am going.”
Coyote said,
     “It’s no matter that I go myself.”
Now then he made a rope.

Five days he made a rope.
     “All right then, let’s go!”
Sure enough Coyote tied it to himself.
Now then the girl went up [in the air].
Now then she told him,
     “When you get tired,
          don’t actually call out.
     I won’t hear.
     When you call out,
          just say ‘hahh.’
     Now then I will come down,
          I will wait for you.”
“Ohh,” Coyote said,
     “I will certainly know that.”

Now then they went along.
     Coyote ran along on the ground,
          the dead one went along up above [in the air].
Coyote was running along.
Now then he got tired.
Now then he called out,
     “Ohhhh I am getting tired!
     Ohhhh I am getting tired!”
The dead one never heard him.

Native American Indian Poetry

At last Coyote got tired,
     he nearly fell down,
          his heart nearly gave out [in faint].
He just opened his mouth [a gasp].
Now then the dead one heard,
     she arrived below,
          she scolded her father.

Five times they went on that way;
     they arrived.
Well now they arrived at the ocean.
The dead one called out.
Sure enough, a canoe came.
Now then the dead one told her father,
     “It won’t come close.
          We will both jump.
          And when we are across,
          we will jump that very same way again.
     Now then I will go to a house,
          you yourself will also go to a house.
          You must stay there five days.
You will not see me.
     For five days and for five nights,
          and then you will see me.
     I will be standing at my dance that long a time,
          and then I will be right again.”
Sure enough, Coyote stayed all alone.

Now then his daughter got there.
Now then she said,
     “Who is this old man?
     He is raw. *
     Let us go hunting.”
Sure enough, the raw one was taken along.
And now the raw one was put along the deer’s trail.
Now then some of the people encircled the mountain,
     they were driving [deer].
Now then they were crying out.
Sure enough the people came closer.
Coyote noticed nothing,
          he saw only snails.
     He could see no deer,
          he saw only that.
Now then the people arrived.
“Ah dear! The old man spoiled the deer!” **

Sure enough they fed him only bones,
     they were heaped in a pile.
          The meat they threw away.
And now they went back.
He went along there to the rear,
     he threw away those bones he had been given,
     he picked up the meat thrown away,
          that is what he took along,
          he got back to the house.
Now then the bones he had brought turned into meat.
Now then his daughter scolded him,
     she told him,
          “What you call a snail,
          that is our deer.
     Those here call it deer.”
Now then Coyote said,
     “Now I know.”

Sure enough, again indeed he was told,
     “Let’s go hunt.”
Now then indeed they went away again.
Again he was placed on the deer’s trail.
Now then the people encircled the mountain,
     they drove.
Sure enough, now then they drove it.

In a little while, sure enough, a snail went by.
Now then he poked it with a stick,
     he threw it aside.
In a little while again a snail again indeed went by,
     again indeed he poked it with a stick,
          he threw it out of the way.
Now then a number of snails went by,
     he killed them all.
Now then the people arrived,
     they said,
          “Ohh the old raw one is fine!!”
Now then Coyote looked to the rear,
     he noticed great numbers piled up,
          great numbers of deer and elk.
          Ohh he felt glad at heart.

Now then they skinned and butchered.
NOw then they piled them up.
     They threw away all the meat,
          only the bones were taken along.
Coyote also actually packed bones.
He reached the house,
     now then those bones turned into meat.
Now then it was said,
     “The old man is fine now!”
They liked the old man now.
Now then some of the people said,
     “Let’s gamble.”
Now then Coyote said,
     “Not here!”
Now then some of their dead ones said,
     “We will help you [sing your gambling songs].”
[-] **** “Ohh that’s fine.”
Sure enough now then they gambled.
     Some of the dead helped him,
          Coyote won.

Native American Indian Poems

Now then again Coyote was actually told,
     “Let’s play woman’s shinny.”
Sure enough Coyte actually played woman’s shinny,
     indeed he also won.

Now then again he was actually told,
     “Let’s play men’s shinny now.”
Sure enough, they played men’s shinny;
     indeed Coyote also won.

Now then Coyote was told,
     “Tomorrow we will wrestle.”
Now then Coyote wrestled;
     he was pretty nearly thrown.
Now then he threw him.

Five times he wrestled.
Now then on the fifth time again he was actually nearly thrown,
     again Coyote actually threw him.
Now they quit their gambling

Now then Coyote remained there.
Now then he got lonesome.
Now then he said,
     “I’ll go back.
     I’m lonesome.
     There’s no one here to talk with.
          In daylight I don’t see anyone,
          only in the dark do people then go about.
     I don’t like it like that,
          and so I say,
               ‘I’ll go back.'”

Now then he told his daughter,
     “Now I’m going to leave you.
     I’m lonesome.
     Even you I do not see in the day.”
His daughter said,
     “That I cannot help.
     That is our way.”
     In the dark we get up,
          we go about,
               in the day we sleep.
That is how we do.”

He said to his daughter,
     “Well now I go back.”
“Ohh it’s quite all right you go back,”
     his daughter said.
Sure enough Coyote was taken across.
Now then he came back,
     he was halfway [to his] place,
          he saw five girls digging camas.
He said,
     “They’ll come over to meet me.
     -Ohh I’ll go back,
I’ll fetch what I saw.”
Sure enough he went to get those hornets.
Now then he put it [the nest] in his sack.
He went on again.
     He got to where the five girls were digging camas.
Sure enough the girls said.
     “Ohhhh Coyote!
     Give us food!
     Aren’t you carrying along a little dried salmon?”
Coyote kept going,
     rather as if he really didn’t hear them.
Again the girls halloed in the very same way:
     “Uhhh Coyote!
     Give us food!
     Aren’t you carrying something along?
     Give us a little food!”
Now then Coyote said,
     “Hu! What is it?”
[-] “Ohh give us food!”

[-] “What shall I give you?
     I’m not carrying anything.
     I am carrying a little.
     Well, come over here!”
Sure enough those girls came.
[-] “Sit down here!
     Look at it carefully!
     Sit close!
     All of you can smell it
     And then unpack it.”
Sure enough they unpacked it.
Now then out came hornets.
     They stung all those girls,
          they all fell there [unconscious].

Now then Coyote snorted [a forced laugh especially his own].
Now then Coyote went on.
Now then Coyote said,
     “You can indeed make fun of me.”

After a long time one of the Frogs woke up.
Now then she dragged her sisters to one side
Now then they all got up.
Now then they said,
     “Let’s go after Coyote.”
Now then the youngest said,
     “What do you know [of spirit power]?”
Now then the oldest said,
     “I know nothing.
     I know a little smoke fog.”
Now then she said to another also,
     “What do you know?”
[-] “I know nothing”
     A little of the sky [up above] pours down [that is, rain].
Now then she spoke the same way to another also.
Now then the fifth time she herself said,
     “I will cause snow and a north wind.”
Sure enough, the youngest said [that].
Now then snow came down.
Now then a north wind blew.

Now then Coyote hurried along.
At last snow got to his knees.
Now then he kept going along.
Now then it got to his upper thigh.
Now then Coyote said,
     “Now they’ve gotten me.
     Maybe they won’t have gotten me.
     Open up!
To be sure, an ash tree opened up.
Now then Coyote went inside there.
Sure enough the tree shut.
          Coyote remained inside the tree.
Now then the Frogs were going after Coyote.
     They got there,
          they lost his trail.
Now then the Frogs went back.

One whole year Coyote remained inside.
He woke up:
     “It’s really as if I hear birds singing.”
Now then Coyote said,
     “Ohh it must really be summertime now!”
Now then he felt around,
     he found “cooked camas,”
          what he called “cooked camas” were his feces.
Now then he ate really his feces.

Now then he halloed,
     “Open it for me!”
Sure enough, the Sapsucker came.
[-] “Not you!”
Now then the Yellow Hammer came.
Now then he said,
     “Not you!”

Now he began halloing indeed again.
Now then the Mountain Woodpecker came.
NOw then that one pecked.

Sure enough he could see a little.
Now then he could see somewhat farther.
Now Coyote said in his heart,
     “I’ll catch her as she pecks close here.
     I’ll fuck her-
     It’s a woman.”

Sure enough, he leaped on her,
     he missed.
Now then the Woodpecker went back to the mountains,
     she said,
Now then Coyote said,
     “Come back!
     I was only joking with you.”

Now then Coyote was left there.
Now then he told his anus,
     “Could you take care of yourself right away?”
Sure enough he pulled off his leg,
     he pulled off his other leg also.
Now then he pulled off his anus,
     he threw it outside.
Now then he pulled off one of his arms,
now then he pulled off his head,
     he threw it outside.

Now then the Blue Jay went by on the run
     he stole Coyote’s eye.
The Blue Jay said
     “Qwácha qwácha awáca,
     Coyote’s anus broke wind!”
Coyote got angry.
Now then he threw everything,
     he threw his body.
Now then he put himself together.
     One of his eyes was missing,
          Blue Jay had stolen it.

Now then he left his anus there.
     He felt cold,
          wind was coming in.
Now then he went back,
     he went to get his anus.
Now then he went along.
     He made his eye from a rose hip.

Now then he went along again,
     he got to where one house was standing,
     one old woman stayed there;
          he went inot it:
               “Where are all the people?”
[-] “Ohh they went away to the hand-game gambling,
     All the people went away to the gand-game gambling.”
Coyote said,
     “Ohh! In what direction?”
Now then the woman said,
     “This direction!”
          She named the place.
Coyote said,
     “Ohh good indeed.”

Now then Coyote went along.
Now then he made money [dentalia] from stalks of camas sprouts,
     that was what he made into money.
Now then he made beads of several kinds from rose hips,
     that was what he made into beads.

Now then he went along,
     he got to still another place,
          one house had smoke coming out.
Now then he went in there,
     an old woman is staying there.
[-] “Who are you,” said the old woman.
[-] “Ohh just me.
     Where have they gone to?!
[-] “They went to the hand-game gambling.”
[-] “In what direction?”
She named the place.
[-] “Ohh, Coyote said.
     “What is going on?”
[-] “Coyote’s eye is being rolled.”
     “Ohh,” said Coyote.

Now then he went along,
     he got to this place.
Sure enough he had already fixed himself up,
     he had made hinself a headman.
Sure enough.

It was said,
     “Let’s gamble.”
Now then another coyote said,
     “Be careful!”
     That’s a coyote there!”
Now then they wanted to whip him.
Now then Coyote sat [remained sitting].
Now then they said,
     “Let’s gamble!”
Still he sat.

After a long time he said,
     “Ohh all right then, really!” *****
Sure enough, he poured out his bet [money dentalia]
Now then Coyote’s eye was rolled,
     Coyote missed it,
          he was beaten.

Again indeed he bet.
Again he [another player] rolled it,
     he missed indeed again,
          Coyote was beaten.
At the fifth time Coyote said,
     “Now I’ll get it.”

That other coyote on the opposite side kept saying,
     “That’s a coyote there.”
Now then he was scolded by them.
Now then they rolled it,
     the people forgot their hearts [grew careless a moment],
          they rolled the eye again.
Now then he got it,
     he jumped up,
          he ran,
               he was chased,
                    he left them behind.
That other coyote was told,
     You are fast!”
He said,
     “You won’t catch hinm now.
     I did tell you.”

Now then all the kinds of people ran
     Panther also indeed,
          he pretty nearly overtook him.
He twisted around to the other side of a hil,
     he set up a house,
          he went into it.
He made himnself an old woman;
     she had no eyes,
          she was washing.

Now then the people arrived there,
     they enetered,
          they said,
               “No one has gotten here?”
The old woman said,
     “No one has gotten here.”
[-] “Search around for him!”
Sure enough they searched around for him,
     everywhere close and outside;
          they did not find him.
Now then they said,
     “Ohh let’s go back.
     We can’t find him.”

Some of them said,
     “It must be himself!” [the old woman]
Some others said,
     That’s not really him!”
Now then they went back,
     they gave it up indeed.

Now then Coyote said,
     “You indeed [can never] beat me!”

That’s all of that now.


* He is raw: Or, “he is green”; that is, he is not in the right bodily condition to be there.

** they were crying out: They were crying, “Hi hi hi,” as in guardian spirit songs and sweathouse songs.

*** spoiled the deer: let it escape.

**** A dash in brackets indicates a change in speaker.

***** “Ohh…really!”: Of course the reluctance is feigned. He has come just for that purpose.

native american indian poems and poetry

This myth, told by William Hartless in Mary’s River Kalapuya, begins with death and ends with life. It shows Coyote as the shape-changing chameleon familiar from many stories, but after showing foresight, devotion to a child, and mastery of the land of the dead. To experience tricks and transformations as a sequel to that makes them appear not the foibles of a scamp but a lesson learned, a way to say, as if Coyote might quote T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and add a line:

          “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
          Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all,-
          Live exuberantly.”

The first act, the origin of permanent death, is a well-known frame. When a friend’s child dies, his partner ordains that the dead should not come back; when his own child dies, he wants to change the rule and cannot. But what follows is not an Orpheus myth, as in some nearby traditions (Wasco-Wishram, Nez Perce). There two partners set out to bring back their dead and would succeed but that Coyote is unable to control his curiousity, looks before they are all the way back, and so the dead are gone forever. He may try to go a second time but cannot find the way.

Here, however, Coyote goes without a partner, not to bring his child back but to tbe with her. When he returns, it is after having mastered the other world. He stumbles as he goes, and makes mistakes when first there, but learns the ways of hunting and is praised. There follow contests, an allusion to myths in which a party travels to another land, perhaps under the ocean, and engages in contests in which life is at stake. The protagonaists need advice and trickery to win. Here Coyote has the help of those he is among in gambling (they sing his gambling song with him), then in other contests simply wins.

In the land of the dead, this Coyote does well what a man should want to do well, almost as if he were a chiefly character, like Eagle or Salmon. But the desire that has led him to follow his daughter becomes a reason to leave. He cannot be with her enough. The dead are active at nigh, not during the day. She agrees it is right for him to return. He goes back from a world of darkness to a world of summer (though it will be a year before he says so).
And what is he now? A prankster, leading frog women who have importuned himn for salmon to open a pack of hornets. Autocoprophagous, eating his feces as if they were camas. Scaring off the woodpecker that could help him escape confinement in a tree, unable to resist attempting to copulate with her. Self-dismantler, taking his body apart, piece by piece, throwing it out, putting it together again. One eyed, without an anus, forgetting the latter until a wind blowing into him reminds him to go back to get it. As for his eye, stolen by Blue Jay, he steals it back, and that is the rest of the story. He makes himself appear wealthy, then a headman, then an old woman, each time fooling the people he needs to fool. Again and again he makes other think something, mostly himself, what it is not.
This quicksilver Coyote, protean, polymorphous, a carnival of identities, is that, I think, becuase of his having to come from the dead. In each land, that of the dead and that of the living, he first pays a price for what he tries to do and then succeeds. Foreseeing that the interests of the world require death to be forever, he loses his own child…Mastery in the land of the dead is learning practices that are the opposite of what one has known. Mastery in the land of the living also may involve the opposite of what is expected. The land of the dead has ways that stay the same. The land of the living can be play, a stage for improvisation with whatever is at hand-hornets, an ash tree, rose hips; it can be a stage for the invention of an identity-rich man, headman, blind old woman…

From “Coming to Light – Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America” Edited by Brian Swann

Native American Indian Poems

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