Coyote was alone and angry because he could not find love. No.
Coyote was alone and angry because he demanded love, demanded a wife
from the Spokane, the Coeur d’Alene, the Palouse, all those tribes
camped on the edge of the Spokane River, and received only laughter.
So Coyote rose up with his powerful and senseless magic
and smashed a paw across the water, which broke the river bottom
in two, which created rain that lasted for forty days and nights
and which created Spokane Falls, that place where salmon travelled
more suddenly than Coyote dreamed, that place where salmon swam
larger than any white man imagined, but Coyote, I know you broke
the river because of love. I saw you catch salmon on the Falls
after you had created them. I know you slept, all fat and happy
beside the river, and pretended it was all done by your design.
Coyote, you’re a liar and I don’t trust you. I never have
but I do trust all those stories the grandmothers told me
They said the Falls were built because of your unrequited love
and I can understand that rage, Coyote. We can all understand
but look at the Falls now and tell me what you see. Look
at the Falls now, if you can see beyond all the concrete
the white man has built here. Look at all of this
and tell me that concrete ever equals love. Coyote
these white men don’t always love their own mothers
so how could they love this river which gave birth
to a thousand lifetimes of salmon, how could they love
these Falls, which have fallen farther, which sit dry
and quiet as a graveyard now. These Falls are that place
where ghosts of salmon jump, where ghosts of women mourn
their children who will never find their way back home
where I stand now and search for any kind of love
where I sing softly, under my breath, alone and angry.
This poem was commissioned as public art for Spokane’s downtown library. The poem’s author, Sherman Alexie, is a a member of the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Indian tribes and has written nationally recognized novels, short stories and poetry.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter