All the Difference of a Line
by Erin Kelley
Montana has fifteen breeding pairs of gray wolves
left. Their pups are often caught paw-by-snare on the far
edge of a cow pasture, at the silver end of some shotgun.
A single pack of coyotes runs the streets of New York City,
leaving neatly licked rat skulls under the streetlights.
They came over on the Bronx-Whitestone and spend daylight
hours curled in the overgrown weeds below overpasses.
The wolves ring out among the rocks, paws hard
with snow. Their howling, once a full harmonic swell,
now just a voice layered thin over a voice.
The coyotes lope and laugh, following the scents
of sweat and rotting food down to the edge
of the Harlem River, eyes cautious on the lights
reflected in the water, their dark eyes doubled back.
Wolf is a myth. His pelt is made from stars
and he takes the moon as a mate. She bears
his litter, a handful of dust-colored dogs
with white around the ears and mouth.
They do not suckle, and he moves across the sky.
They turn into earth, and then stories, and then gods.
Coyote keeps her paws clean. She chases the badger
from his den rather than dig her own. Her mate
lowers his belly to the leaves and surprises muskrats
with a quiet snap. Later, he regurgitates meat heated
in his belly to the floor of the den she is lining
with her own fur. Twenty paws twitch inside her.
The Rio Grande runs eighteen hundred miles, spilling
down the hills of Colorado and severing Mexico
from Tejas in an arbitrary burst of blue. The water
is controlled by locks and dams, swelling to a roar,
or dwindling to a trickle now that men want to own it.
The wolf dens here have overheated and gone empty
except for scorpions and long-tailed mice. Coyotes
shed their fur, let their paws spread out to step quietly
on hot sand, and stand, wet-footed, waiting
for the purple edge of sunset before they cross.
About Erin Kelley
Erin Kelley grew up in Solitude, Indiana. She recently completed her Masters in Poetry at the Seamus Heaney Center in Belfast, Northern Ireland.