Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Category: Fiction (page 1 of 2)

The Man Who Spoke the Law

Old folks will tell you there was a time when there was no poetry. Not around here anyway. Maybe back east or some place where time was more available, but breaking this land took all a man had and didn’t leave anything for him at the end. Certainly, no time for pretty words.

Some will even tell you that there was laws against it, but I don’t hold with that story. Still, I had this idea for a poem, back in ’08 or so and I didn’t want to run afoul the sheriff so I figured I needed to have a looksee to find out if there was any laws about poetry one way or the other.

I won’t tell you all my adventures because there were too many and most of them weren’t really worth the telling, but I saw a fair bit of Dallas and Houston and even El Paso on one occasion I’d just as soon forget.

It was in Austin, down in the fluorescent-lit subcommittee caverns beneath the capitol building, where I found my answers. I’d been walking around admiring all that pink granite and the grounds with all the fat squirrels and pigeons and lobbyists and all when I met an old guy mopping the floors after all the senators had left. He’s the one who told me these poems I’m about to share.

He said he found them. Now, I don’t usually go in for poems people say they found, but these two I’m about to relate are the closest I ever come to finding any kind of answer. I guess you could say they were found twice.

He told me, the Texas State Legislature said, “Let There Be Poetry.”

He told me it was all written down in a big old leather-bound book like the ones you might of seen witches reading their spells from in the movies. It was called Texas Administrative Code,

and if you turned those musty old pages over to

Title 19, Part II, Subchapter C §110.31. English Language Arts and Reading, English I (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2009-2010. (b)  Knowledge and skills. (3) Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/

you’d find it.

He closed his eyes and started reciting in a low whisper. He said it was


Students understand,
make inferences

draw conclusions
about the structure

& elements of poetry,
provide evidence from text

to support their understanding.
students are expected to analyze

the effects
of diction

and imagery

controlling images,
figurative language,

in poetry.

He stopped saying his poem, and I stood there taking it all in for a long time. I could hear footsteps echoing through those marble corridors like the sound of generations of people coming up from their final resting places just to hear what this janitor was saying, but those footsteps were just regular folks going about their evening, leaving work, unaware that there was some poetry right there in the middle of all that law.

I told him it sounded like that about covered reading poems, but what about writing them. He nodded and told me all those powerful senators and legislators thought of that too and so he shared another one he found, but it was under some different subsections and letters and what have you.

This one was shorter, kind of like one of those Japanese poems that never got a title and  tells you a lot without using very many words so you have a lot of things to think about and maybe don’t know exactly what the writer meant.

write a poem
using a variety of
poetic techniques

and a variety
of poetic forms

He let it sink in  a moment or two and smiled and kind of leaned on his mop a little and told me he might of left some parts out, some commas and conjunctions and parentheticals and whatnot.

I don’t know. And I don’t know if those were any good or not either, but it sounded something like what I might be looking for.

The next morning, I headed back toward home and didn’t stop until I got there.

This was first published in qarrtsiluni (Words of Power issue, Oct 2009). Thank you to editors Dave Bonta and Beth Adams .


She went deeper and the boat receded. She worked her chains. The world was locks and water, but she knew the key and smiled as she sank.

The waves came and went leaving constant patterns in the surf. A message: Help me. The beach litter was a map of the seafloor.

He swam for hours into the darkening sea, found her lying in the coral. You came, she said. He exhaled for the last time.

The sea was air, the coral home. Their love the fish, the legs they grew as they evolved back to land to invent boats, chains and locks.


I posted this to my Twitter feed about a year ago and found it in my files. So, a rerun.

November Microfiction 6-10

The backhoe hit something solid. The road workers grumbled to a stop and stared at the great metallic wings among the fossilized shells.

Terrified by what I’d built, I drowned my robot in the creek behind the house. At night, he returned. Said I never gave him lungs.

Just north of the border, traffic came to a stop. She practiced her smile, took his hand off her leg and put it back in the glovebox.

“Fox!” the boy called with little interest. He missed the days before budget cuts and downsizing when he had been the boy who cried wolf.

No way this thing should be able to fly. I mean who makes their own helicopters? I glance down at the ground and wish I’d learned to land.


These are originally posted on Twitter (@jdbrush). I’m trying to do one per day this month.

November Microfiction 1-5

He wore a hatful of moonlight and in the daytime pretended to ignore the inconvenient coyotes trailing him through the streets, howling.

Savage! The savage savage savagely savaged the other savages for their refusal to act as pronouns, prepositions, or conjunctions.

Years later, she opened the book and saw the letters had slid off the pages and clumped in the gutter. She pieced together a new scripture.

The leviathan, hungry for prophets, swam in ever-widening circles and considered the ursine shore, the polar bear market.

The old astronaut in the tee box glanced at Cygnus. He was go for the black hole in one. It was a par 3.1555787×10e18, but he felt lucky.


These are originally posted on Twitter (@jdbrush). I’m trying to do one per day this month.

Small Adjustments

First he thought it was the stars, that creaking groan and grind of tired years but with time the tension grew and he realized the problem lay not overhead but underfoot (as problems often do). Some days the gripping stuckness beneath his feet felt tighter and other days it felt looser like someone else’s shoes depending on where he walked and what he ate for breakfast. Out on the plains where the stars rattled so faintly as to be almost inaudible, he located the source of this tension, unzipped the blackland earth and studied the dull gears that moved the gears that made the world go round. He turned a wrench against the machine—so surprisingly simple to adjust, this mechanical universe—and retuned the planet’s motion relative to the earthly key of his own aspirations. That’s the way he explained his good fortune years later as he leaned back in the worn leather chair of his old age, smiling in the knowledge that he was now very close to achieving his lifelong goal of living happily ever after.

For Magpie Tales #109

Here We Go Again

She holds her smoke. She’s swallowed the sun. Tendrils drift blue from her nose, a curtain obscuring the year. Cars weave through the lot. She stands among leaves, refusing to flinch at the sound of tires rolling over gravel like fragile bones. Her resistance radiates through the trees’ bare branches and out to space with the smoke from her lungs as the light between her fingers fades. She flicks the butt to the sidewalk, a comet to inspire the prophesies and curses of the ants. She runs her hands through her long and tired hair, pushes open the door surprising herself by humming snatches of a tune she thought she’d forgotten. The ants gather to celebrate this thing, this fire, they believe is theirs.

Prose poem or flash fiction? Who knows. This is based on this old post from 2009.

A Trip to the Zoo

I still remember the day my grandpa took me to the zoo to see all the animals. We started in the aviary. He opened drawer after drawer, pulling withered birds from thin glass formaldehyde-filled tombs. I stared in wonder at their soggy bodies and imagined them flying through the air singing their forgotten songs while he read the tags attached to their legs by thin pieces of wire.

Aren’t they beautiful, he whispered, holding them out for me to admire one-by-one. Here in his wizened old hands were the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, the dusky seaside sparrow, the Bachman’s warbler, the Eskimo curlew, the great auk, the Labrador duck, the ivory-billed woodpecker. He told me how someday their DNA would be used to bring them back, but he didn’t believe it any more than I did; it was only rote justification recited like a verbal ghost dance, a spell to ward away despair.

In another drawer, he showed me the tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, turkey vulture, house sparrow and common grackle. I marveled at the play of light in the grackle’s iridescent feathers, moving my head back-and-forth to find the place where purple became black, all the while wondering at the beauty the thing must have once possessed. I’m sorry, Grandpa said over and over again, looking away from dead eyes and knowing that these birds would only ever fly again in the memories of his generation, a generation soon to be consigned to its own silent aviaries.

I’m sorry, he kept repeating as his shaky hands placed the bird back with the rest of its flock. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t bear to see him this way so I just asked him if we could go see the tigers and bears next. Maybe get a hot dog.


After days on the road, Robbie ran out of numbers for counting road signs and clouds, which was fine since he’d already counted all of them anyway. He switched to counting things that weren’t there and ticked imaginary numbers off in his head whenever he didn’t see something.

He thought he didn’t see a motorcycle but the absence was only a mirage, he realized when a black-clad biker gang rumbled past, stirring the desert to thunderous life before returning to the kind of silence that inspired Robby to consider counting things he didn’t hear as well as things unseen.

He thought he didn’t hear a coyote, so he eased his pickup off the highway to make sure the animal wasn’t there before adding it to his tally. Robby was scrupulously honest with himself about all things and wanted to ensure the accuracy of his count especially since the coyote, if it wasn’t there, would be the 500ith item on his list.

When he stepped out of his truck, the wind tore at his hair and clawed his jacket. He looked around trying to see if there was nothing there to count, but the desert, much to Robby’s disappointment, was full of things and besides he wanted that coyote to be the 500ith thing that wasn’t there. Nearly i0 hours from the road, he didn’t see the coyote, which wasn’t sitting in a three-legged chair. He resisted the urge to count the chair’s missing leg.

He approached iCoyote slowly and knelt before his absence, staring up at the thin clouds in the sky where iCoyote’s head would have been.

“I thought I’d be able to see you,” Robbie whispered, his voice nearly lost in the wind as he added iCoyote to his tally.

“Divide out the i’s,” iCoyote didn’t say.

Robbie thought back to half-remembered math classes, wondered if i worked like a variable, could be solved like x. “I’d have to do that to both sides of the equation, wouldn’t I?” Robby asked and noticed that he’d lifted his hands like an equal sign between them. “To balance it out, right?”

iCoyote didn’t say, “You’ll get your proof.”

Robbie divided out the i and saw the coyote grinning at him from the chair. The coyote hopped down, walked through Robbie as if he were a mere fraction reduced to the lowest terms of what he had been, and trotted off in the direction of Robbie’s truck.

Robbie looked around and saw all the things that weren’t there. He subtracted frantically, his list cratering before his open eyes. In the distance, he didn’t hear his engine start and he didn’t hear it drive down the highway without him.

This is a response to Read Write Poem prompt #111, a picture of a guy kneeling in front of an empty three-legged chair. It’s a remarkable photo.

I never know what to label stuff like this. Short story? Flash fiction? Prose poem? Prose poem feels right since that’s the intention I started with.

I have no idea if I got the math right. As with Robbie, my math classes were a long time ago.

Be sure to read what others did with this prompt.

The Man Who Spoke the Law

My short prose piece “The Man Who Spoke the Law” is up over at qarrtsiluni. It’s part of the “Words of Power” issue, which is running through December. There’s lots of great stuff over there so check it out.

Transcript of a Recording Found in a Briefcase Abandoned on the Plains (c. 1977)

It’s hot here.
I don’t mind.

Was it in Memphis?

No. You know. Where it happened.
Not Memphis. No.

Where? If you don’t mind.


You thought it would be somewhere else,
but things can happen anywhere.

You left there and came here?
Pretty much.

Is it true you won the lottery?
Just a scratch-off.

But you did win.
It was cursed.

Don’t laugh at me.

Sorry. Cursed how?
I see people as they really are. Their true faces.

What do you see when you look at me?


Is that really what you want?
You’ll understand what… happened…
better than you might really want to.

Tell me.
Can I tell you a secret first?

This was inspired by the latest image prompt at Read Write Poem (prompt #81). To see the photo (“XX” by nwolc), which is really cool, follow the link to the prompt or go straight to its Flickr page.

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