Coyote Loops: Leslie Marmon Silko Holds a Full House in Her Hand

By Fitz, Brewster E. | MELUS, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Coyote Loops: Leslie Marmon Silko Holds a Full House in Her Hand


Fitz, Brewster E., MELUS


At Hopi he could get a fresh start; he could tell people about himself while they looked at the photos in the plastic pages of his wallet.

--Leslie Marmon Silko (Storyteller 260)

It wasn't until I began this book that I realized that the photographs in the Hopi basket have a special relationship to the stories as I remember them. The photographs are here because they are part of many of the stories and because many of the stories can be traced to the photographs.

--Leslie Marmon Silko (Storyteller 1)

Leslie Marmon Silko's "Coyote Holds a Full House in His Hand" begins in medias res with a metaphorical twist on a common opening line of Coyote stories: "He wasn't getting any place with Mrs. Sekakaku, he could sec that" (257). (1) Having perceived that he is being relegated to the static fringe of things by Mrs. Sekakaku's "warming up leftover chili beans for lunch" and by her talk of Aunt Mamie's dizzy spells, the protagonist in this story begins by musing about his situation in an extended passage that could be likened to a stream-of-consciousness interior monologue, but which I would like to refer to as a Coyote loop. (2)

Digressing at some length through scenes from the protagonist's youth, as well as through events from the recent past, and returning to him sitting on the red plastic sofa in Mrs. Sekakaku's house, the Coyote loop introduces the protagonist as quite a character. He is old enough to be graying, has avoided marriage with the same nonchalance that he avoids work, and still lives in his mother's house. He spends most of his time shuttling back and forth between Laguna and Albuquerque, where he frequents "Indian bars downtown," but has himself photographed in front of "fancy bars in the Heights." Even though he has dropped out of school after the seventh grade, he listens to lawyers in the Federal Building and knows he could be a lawyer "because he was so good at making up stories to justify why things happened the way they did" (259). He has depended on his mother to cash her pension check to pay for enrollment in law school by correspondence or c.o.d, mail-ordered items like the imitation leather jacket he still wears. He likes to look at and imagine fondling plump women such as the Mexican "postmaster" (257) and Mrs. Sekakaku.

There appears to be a gap between the point of view shared by the protagonist's fellow Pueblos and the point of view of the character who begins the story seated, recalling and linking by free association events from his past experience. He perceives that others, including his siblings and cousins, tell stories that cast him in a less than favorable light. He, however, perceives their perceptions to be misperceptions and is waiting for someone, like Mrs. Sekakaku, to understand:

 
   Mrs. Sekakaku finally realized the kind of man he was. All along that had 
   been the trouble at Laguna, nobody understood just what kind of man he was. 
   They thought he was sort of good for nothing, he knew that, but for a long 
   time he kept telling himself to keep on trying and trying. But it seemed 
   like people would never forget the time the whole village was called out to 
   clean up for feast day and he sent his mother to tell them he was sick with 
   liver trouble. He was still hurt because they didn't understand that with 
   liver trouble you can walk around and sometimes even ride the bus to 
   Albuquerque. (258) 

It is not difficult to read a suggestion of irony arising from the gap between the protagonist's perception of things and the perception of the other characters and the narrator. Such an irony is usually associated with the classic "style indirect libre" as exemplified in novels such as Madame Bovary. In this' narrative style the author "alternates the supposed objective account of the third person narrator's voice with the subjective experience of a character moving through the world. …

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