Category Archives: Animals in folklore

The Pressure of Procrastination by Enoch Thompson


My teeth sting in my face, the gums feel like they could bleed,
but I don’t brush them, no, why do such a simple thing,
it would be a waste of time.  Instead I loaf,
waiting for the brilliance that’s rightfully mine,
waiting for a smell of joy, a salty tear running down to my nostril,
waiting for love as obvious as the warm hour of day when I’m out in the sun.
Maybe I’ll discover a new color when it happens merely by chance,
but I wait for greatness.

I could never be content with just a toothbrush in my hand.
Let that invisible sting at the bottoms of my gums, deep in my veins,
turn into a green tinge of growth, climbing up, climbing out.
Let me cry out in pain and rage when I eat.
Then with a scalpel, with rough-studded tools,
let me slay that dragon, and I’ll smile easier.


Want to read more of Enoch’s poetry? Go here, here, and here.

Degrees of Coyoteness by Patricia Karamesines


This is a rewrite of a post published here on WIZ that I’m including in my book Crossfire Canyon. I’m posting the rewrite today in response to finding a bounty-killed coyote on this morning’s walk.

April 8, 2009. As I walked out of a nearby canyon last week along a trail where I had previously encountered a curious coyote, my nose detected gases given off by putrefaction. Somewhere nearby, bacteria were at work breaking down formerly living tissue to simpler matter, dispersing an organism’s worldly good to its biological heritors.

To this we must all come. But who has come to it now, and where?

Walking deeper into the field of decomposition gases, I searched the ground, guessing what I would find. I was approaching the gravel pit, a dumping ground for domestic and wild animal carcasses and the scene of occasional war crimes of the sort some people commit against animals. It’s common to find coyote remains around the pit, along with elk and deer carcasses, tree prunings, the ashes of bonfires, articles of clothing, and aerosol cans–the residue of “huffing” parties.

My eyes had difficulty picking out the body of the coyote because his full winter regalia of desert-soils-hued fur blended in well where he had been dumped against the weathered juniper barricade a rancher erected decades ago to prevent cattle from wandering. I’m guessing the coyote was an adult male because of the animal’s size. Wind ruffled the luxuriant fur, and my own hand felt drawn to touch. But I didn’t. Touching the coyote might spark a response that under the circumstances I wasn’t prepared to support. Continue reading Degrees of Coyoteness by Patricia Karamesines

The Manger Scene by Patricia Karamesines


Winter’s eve.
She smelled the season on him. Summer,
he came in redolent of horses
and wild mint; winter, copper and ice.
Metallic and snow-clean, he cooled the house.
Behind him, now, feathers of snow
bounced against black window glass.
The household breath smelled of pies and bread.
Shadows browned the cabin walls
and firelight varnished lintel beams
with grainy lights. She moved inside
her winter wools, wandering the scene
that was to be Christmas—her part of it.
Satisfied, she drifted to
his side to watch him carve. His knife Continue reading The Manger Scene by Patricia Karamesines

Chairman Mao by Percival P. Pennywhistle

Chairman Mao

My cat’s named “Chairman Mao”:*
She’s dropped the “i” somehow.
She’s dropped the thing,
But, Marx bless Ming,**
Still has a frightful Yao.***

The image above is a 2012 scan of a 1999 oil on oilcloth reproduction of a 1942 photograph of a late Victorian cameo of an early Victorian watercolour portrait of Chairman Mao’s maternal great-great-great-great-(yawn)-great-great-great … great-grandmother, who looked just like her, but was considerably more pleasant.

* Chairman Mao, otherwise known as Mao Tse Tung, is widely considered the founding ruler of the Chinese Communist Party, which is either revered or despised depending on the holiday and/or who’s looking over your shoulder.
The Miao people together comprise what is called an “ethnic minority,” and a fairly large one at that, which typically means they eat more interesting things than everybody else and are happy to invite you for dinner. They live in Southwest China, in Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, and Hainan provinces, and in the formidable sounding Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Prefecture. They believe that everything has a spirit, even Chairman Mao. Continue reading Chairman Mao by Percival P. Pennywhistle

Tree of Life by Coyote (as told to Patricia K.)

This segment is from a longer piece, Plato’s Alcove, which won an honorable mention in Torrey House Press’s 2011 Creative Non-Fiction Contest.  You can read the entire entry here. Plato’s Alcove is about my first trip to the desert back in 1982.

In the desert one day I met Coyote, the Trickster-God.  We greeted each other and sat in the shade.  I opened my canteen and drank then offered Coyote a drink.  When he thought I wasn’t looking he wiped the canteen’s mouth.  Then he drank.

“Thank you,” he said, handing it back.

I asked Coyote, “Why is this place so beautiful?”

He laughed and said, “I’ll tell you a story that explains everything.” Continue reading Tree of Life by Coyote (as told to Patricia K.)

Polar Opposites: Are Polar Bears in Danger? by Val K.


On May 14 of 2008, Dirk Kempthorne, the Secretary of Interior, followed the urgings of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall and placed the polar bear species (Ursus maritimus) on the endangered species list. Hunting bans were implemented to prevent the importing of hunted polar bear hides.

Before this, a powerful controversy had been developing in the scientific world and continues even now. Environmentalists and many scientists believe that, due to global warming, the ice habitat of the polar bears is receding and endangering them and that in a matter of several decades they could possibly become extinct. Continue reading Polar Opposites: Are Polar Bears in Danger? by Val K.

WIZ’s 2011 Spring Poetry Runoff Contest and Celebration begins!


Light’s rise sparks bright blooms:
birdsong, fields of it, vining–
spring’s first green flourish.

These mornings, I step outside my back door to hear the hush of winter thrown off by a clamor of birdsong–the crackle of starlings, jazzy riffs of purple house finches, a lonely two-syllable call from a flycatcher,  screeches and churrings of magpies, ravens’ gravelly croaks, a woodpecker drumming a juniper tree, jangling songs of meadowlarks outshouting everyone.  Quite stunning, this send-off of the season of low, cold light.  And I can’t help but detect in the intertwining of different avian dialects the bloom of flowery beauty and signature fragrances of meaning.

The language of the birds, or the green language, is the mythical, magical language of wisdom and divine insight thought to pass between birds and those humans with ears to hear the music of the cosmos with which birdsong is thought to be impregnated.  Some traditions equate la langue verte with the adamic or perfect language.  Many folks might consider any relation between birdsong and human utterances and comprehension illusory.  But if you listen closely, you will hear chirps in the language of many species ranging from rodents (prairie dogs’ alarm calls sound bird-ish, and the noisy grasshopper mouse chirrups constantly) to cats (chirps and trills) to amphibians (our Woodhouse toads pip at us) to insects to puppies to people–especially babies.  My nearly 19-year-old disabled daughter, who can understand more words than she can say, chirps, hoots, and trills in response to questions and other words of address.  After nearly two decades of studying her bird-like, tonal language, I think I can rightly claim that I’ve gained from it deep, magical insight–including into the quiddity of human expression.  Because of my experience with her and what I think I hear in the language of birds and other animals and insects, I’ve begun to wonder if, rather than acting as the basic phoneme of  a foreign language spoken by creatures with which we think ourselves to have little in common, the chirp might just lie at the root of human expression.

Whatever else it’s said to be, the mythical language of the birds is highly poetic, layered with multiple strata of meaning, playful, punful, sliding, gliding, beguiling to the ear when performed aloud, and, when conveyed in written interchange, deeply engaging of the mind’s inner ear.

For WIZ’s 2011 Spring Poetry Runoff and Celebration, let’s see if we can outshine the birds in their spring ceremonies.  Human language can be just as green and gorgeous, just as textured and as alluring as the language of the birds.  And when it comes to the opening of new prospects and possibilities, human language can have no rival.  Even the language of the birds lags behind the best effects of the best human language: opening-the-possibilities acts of authentic creation.  Poetry, with its multifaceted, many-leveled effects and metaphoric prowess–its strength for getting across–can create, so to speak, more world.  As John D. Niles says in Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Narrative, “It is through such symbolic mental activities [as storytelling and poetry] that people have gained the ability to create themselves as human beings and thereby transform the world of nature into shapes not known before.”

So this Spring Poetry Runoff, let’s go green in our language.  I don’t mean Green, as in supportive of social or political movements touting environmental protection.  In some cases, that language is the least green of all.  I mean let’s go green, as in producing living, doing, being language that acts to open possibilities by virtue of its creative élan.  I mean let’s give out words that don’t just describe experience, they create experience, providing raw materials that others can recombine for their own narrative needs, thus altering, here and there, world and worlds.   Referencing John Miles Foley, Niles  calls this cosmoplastic, or “world-building” energy of human language, “wordpower.”

During this year’s Spring Poetry Runoff Contest and Celebration, we’ll not only be running the poetry contest with prizes in the Most Popular Vote Award and Admin Award categories but also an open-invitation haiku chain (a developing tradition on WIZ), a non-competing category for those poets wishing to participate in the Spring Poetry Runoff just for fun, the Runoff Rerun (re-publishing of one of last year’s poems), and other activities.

Hope you join in.  It’s spring.  Let’s sing it up.

To review submission deadlines, rules, voting procedures, and prizes, go here.


Photo of singing western meadowlark by Alan Vernon.

Cosmic Turtles, Part Five

In Virginia during the sixties and seventies, with a little concentrated looking, I could consort with eastern mud turtles, spotted turtles, elegant eastern painted turtles, snapping turtles, eastern box turtles, and even, I believe, although we lived rather east of its range as depicted in Petersen’s Eastern Reptiles and Amphibians, the occasional Terrapina ornata, the ornate box turtle. Continue reading Cosmic Turtles, Part Five

Cosmic Turtles, Part Four

Although Turtle is a trickster of the highest order, it is true also that Turtle may be tricked.  When this happens—when the trickster’s trickster is tricked—you may be sure the world has tipped out of balance.

Every year along the southeastern and gulf state coastlands of the U.S., females of several sea turtle species such as the loggerhead turtle, the green sea turtle, Ridley’s turtle, and the leatherback, their bellies full of eggs, approach land from the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean, flapping through the water like short-billed birds.  Migrations begin in March and, one species following another, last through September (1). Continue reading Cosmic Turtles, Part Four

Cosmic Turtles, Part Two

Beside serving as the foundation of the world, Turtle surfaces in folk literature as the trickster’s trickster. It may surprise some to learn that Turtle has the smarts necessary to get the best of flimflammers like Jackal and even Anansi, the trickster spider, but then surprise is part of the strategy. Continue reading Cosmic Turtles, Part Two