Coyote And The Stars

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The world was very different once. The Earth and the Sun had already been created, but there was no moon, no stars, nothing to light people's way at night. This caused a lot of problems: predators couldn't see to hunt their prey, and the prey couldn't see to run away. No one could find their way home if they stayed out past sundown. And so a representative of the various animal and human peoples was sent to the Great Spirit to see what could be done.

"Great Spirit," he said, "The Earth is a wonderful place. The Sun is truly a marvel. But this night thing, which is good for a lot of reasons, is also very difficult for many of us. If only there were a way we could have a little more light without keeping everyone awake, it would be a very good thing."

"Hmmm," said Great Spirit, "I take your point. Let me think on this a bit and I'll get back to you."

A week or so went by and then Great Spirit summoned everyone to meet him at the top of the tallest hill the next day for a meeting about a community art project that would involve everyone in making the night sky into a beautiful mural of lights. When they arrived, he laid out his plan: "Tonight, we will change the sky. I will hand out tiny shining gems to each of you, and you can place them as you see fit. You can write your name, draw pictures, make designs, whatever you want. Everyone gets to add their own part, and from tonight on, your artwork will shine when the sun goes down to help you find your way at night."

Everyone was very excited by the project, but no one was more excited than Coyote. "My name in Lights!" he cried, "Everyone will know how important I am! Wheeee!"

He was so excited that he spent the whole day running around telling everyone just how big, and amazing, and awesome, and huge his sky marquee would be. Between all the running around, the endless monologue and the excitement he felt about this monument to his fame, Coyote was all tuckered out by late afternoon. He decided to take a nap so he would have lots of energy to make his name as big as the whole sky. Alarm clocks hadn't been invented yet, but even if they had, I'm quite sure he would have just kept hitting the snooze button. After all, Coyote was very famous, but it's what he was famous for that needs to be considered here.

When Coyote finally jerked awake, it was almost dark and he was a long ways from the hill where the project was to meet. He ran as fast as he could, fretting about the time all the way. "I'm going to have to invent some kind of faster transportation system," he thought, "someday maybe I'll make something efficient and timely that stops everywhere and gets people where they need to go. I think I'll call it the Coyote Transit Already. Yeah, I better remember that, the CTA!"

When he arrived at the hill, there were only two people in line. "Excellent!" he thought, "Everyone else is less ambitious than I am and they've all slacked off and come late!" He shoved his way up to the front of the line and held out his paws for the bag of gems that would proclaim his glory.

"I'm ready!" he shouted, between great gasping breaths, "Where's my sack of light?!?"

"Coyote!" Great Spirit, "You're late! I've already handed out all the bags of lights. I'm afraid there are none left for you. We divvied them up equally between the people who showed up at dusk, like I asked them to."

"No way! That blows!" Coyote looked up and saw that indeed, the sky was filled with people on their way up to the heavens, holding small bags about the size of a lunch sack.

Great Spirit looked affectionately, if somewhat sternly at Coyote and said, "Don't fret, Coyote. I'm all out of bags of light but I have a very important job for you… a job that will let you participate in all the other people's work."

"A JOB! I don't want a job. I want my NAME IN LIGHTS!!!"

Well, everyone knows that Coyote is the most foolish of all people, but even Coyote knows that there are some people you just don't argue with. So as much as it pained him, he took a breath, let it out, hung his head and said, "right. Okay. So what's the gig, then?"

Great Spirit pulled out a huge bag, a Santa Claus bag, a bag you could hold Lake Eerie in, just full of lights and handed to Coyote. Naturally, Coyote's eyes got as big as the bag itself and he felt the familiar grin start to slide across his face. "For me?" he asked. "You were just kidding about being late, right? You've saved me enough lights to write my name all the way across the sky, just like it should be!"

"No, Coyote. Those lights are not for you. What I want you to do is go up in the sky and hand these out to people as they run low, so they can be assured of having enough to finish their projects."

This was hard news. Coyote felt twice as bad as he had a moment ago, and until then, he hadn't even known he could feel that bad. But he shouldered the bag, threw his back into the effort, and began trudging up the sky to do his job. He muttered under his breath on his way up the sky, "I knew I hate to work, but this job thing, damn, I really hate having a job. Good thing people don't have to do this every day! And you know what? It's pretty freakin' boring too!" He started feeling really tired pretty soon, and so he stopped to rest.

"I sure wish these were for me," he thought. He opened the bag and peered in, just to peek. "Wow," he said aloud, "These would have made such a pretty name." He reached in and touched them, feeling the cool shine of the lights on his fingers. "Wow." He grabbed a small handful and trickled it back into the bag, nearly hypnotized by the shiny, glimmering bits of light. "WOW!" He grabbed another handful and trickled them into the bag, mesmerized. "Whooowhee!" He cried, and grabbed a handful and just flung it up into the sky above. "I've invented fireworks! Yehaw!"

The sight of the lights spraying upward gave him energy, so he picked up the bag and started walking again, but before he'd gone a few steps he felt he had to see that just once more, so he stopped and threw another bunch of lights up over his head. And before he knew it, he was way up in the sky, halfway across it and was reaching down to the very bottom of the bag to grab another handful to throw.

"Oops." He rustled the bag, dumped it upside down just to make sure, looked again and shook it. It was empty. "How did that happen," he thought?

Looking back, he saw a blazing trail all the way across the night and realized that he had thrown all the lights from the bag into the sky without even really realizing it. "I am so busted," he thought. And it was then that he heard almost everyone calling his name, which might have been exciting if they hadn't all sounded so impatient and angry. "I've gotta get outta here!" He dropped the bag and ran to look for a good place to hide.

All day, everyone slept off their labor but the very next night they gathered to see how their artwork had turned out. Everyone but Coyote, who was watching from a nearby hill but still too leery of making an appearance. The sun went down, the colors faded, and one by one the lights in the sky began to shine. Some were hung lower and could be seen earlier than the ones hung farther away. But once dark settled as deeply as it would ever settle again, the stars shone forth in a riot of glory. Oohs and ahhs rang out from the assembled crowd. At first. But then, grumbling began. For most of the pictures hung unfinished, thanks to Coyote's mistake. The clearest image was of man the hunter (we call it Orion) because he had already learned the artistic trick of working from general to specific. Bear was pretty clear, also. But many of the names and images were difficult or impossible to make out without using a great deal of imagination.

One thing was abundantly clear though, impossible to miss, and that was the trail where Coyote walked across the sky, flinging the lights to see them fly. We call the the Milky Way but for a long time people referred to it as "That Freakin' Pyro's Colossal Mistake."

This story explains another thing. Some say Coyote howls only at the moon, but of course that's not true. When you hear Coyote howling and keening on a new moon night, or nights with just a sliver of moon, you know he's howling over his lost chance for fame. The ginormous sign he meant to blaze across the sky to proclaim "Coyote Rules!"

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John T. Unger poet

I'm best known as an artist and designer. Relaxing makes me tense, so I tend to put in a lot of hours on diverse projects.

Before becoming a visual artist, I spent 15 years as a poet. I studied poetry at Interlochen Arts Academy, Naropa, Stone Circle and on the streets. I performed my work for years at Stone Circle, solo shows, poetry readings, and at Lollapalooza in 1996.

I still write poems, but only if I can make them fit the constraints ofTwitter.

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