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. The former is presented as a given that is in itself unproblematic for narrator and reader; the latter involves an individual's perception and misperception. The gap between the two gives rise to the familiar Flaubertian irony" (VanderWolk 276-77).

Silko's text, however, is written in a special version of the indirect free style discourse in which the third person narrator gives not only the protagonist's perceptions but also his interpretation of the "supposed objective account" of his experience given by others. This potentially puts into question the objectivity of all third person storytellers in the story, including the third person narrator, and in so doing, gives rise to a gap in Silko's discourse in which irony does, indeed, arise. It is not, however, just the condescending irony that arises from the gap between the supposed objective point of view of a third person narrator and a subjective character's misperceptions; rather it is a dizzying ironizing of this irony, a turning of irony back onto itself that problematizes the objectivity that is taken as a given in the classic style indirect libre and invites the reader to experience a realm where subjectivity and objectivity are suspended. In such a doubly ironic discourse, realizing who the character is, means spinning together the warm and equalizing point of view of women like Mrs. Sekakaku with the cold and condescending point of view of the traditional Western narrative ironist. There are several passages in the narrative where the reader is invited to experience the protagonist's experience of himself as enigmatically potent and irresistible. These passages are marked by a curious referential ambiguity of the pronoun it. Metaphoric language in these passages both contributes to the difficulty in determining a referent for the pronoun and suggests possible unnamed referents. The first such passage opens the Coyote loop:

   He sat the magazine down on his lap and traced his finger over the horse 
   head embossed on the plastic cushion. It was always like that. When he 
   didn't expect it, it always came to him, but when he wanted something to 
   happen, like with Mrs. Sekakaku, then it shied away. (257; my italics) 

The referent of it in the first occurrence in this passage could be the situation in which the protagonist currently finds himself, i.e. relegated to the static fringe of things by Mrs. Sekakaku. However, with the second and third occurrence, it appears not to refer to the current situation with Mrs. Sekakaku, but to a different and more desirable situation. In the fourth occurrence, the depiction of the behavior of the referent of it as shying away makes `it possible to read this referent metaphorically as something chevaline. This chevaline shying is thematically anticipated by the protagonist's "tracing" his finger over the embossed horse head, a gesture that opens the possibility that it in all four occurrences refers to something that has a will of its own and is given to whims like a shy horse that does not obey the protagonist's will.

A similar something like an outside will figures in the protagonist's self-flattering phallic interpretation of the chevaline metaphor he overhears spoken in Spanish by the matronly "postmaster":

   The Mexican woman thought Pueblo men were great lovers--he knew this 
   because he heard her say so to another Mexican woman one day while he was 
   finishing his strawberry soda on the other side of the dry goods section. 
   In the summer he spent a good number of hours there watching her because 
   she wore sleeveless blouses that revealed her fat upper arms, full and 
   round, and the tender underarm creases curving to her breasts. They had not 
   noticed he was still there leaning on the counter behind a pile of 
   overalls; "... the size of a horse" was all that he had heard, but he knew 
   what she was talking about. They were like that those Mexican women. (257) 

The referent of the Mexican postmaster's comparative metaphor is itself left unspoken. The protagonist overhears, translates, and interprets only the words placed between quotation marks in the narrative. A supposedly objective and condescending reader could certainly point out that, given the fragmentary status of the postmaster's enunciation, it is not possible to rely upon grammar either to validate or invalidate the protagonist's interpretation of the chevaline metaphor as referring to the phallic criterion used by the Mexican women to measure Pueblo men as lovers. It is not even possible to know what the topic of conversation was among the women. Such a reader could read irony in this passage, seeing in the protagonist's "subjective" reading of the chevaline metaphor a figure in which his character is embossed: he is so self-centered, voyeuristic, ineffective, deluded, and inflated with his own image of himself as a Laguna stud, that he cannot possibly interpret "objectively" the pitiful figure he must cut when he lurks in the store or when he brings the postmaster a heart-shaped box of candy. It is also possible, however, for the reader to read the protagonist as an interpreter who consistently relies upon rhetoric rather than grammar in order to make sense of what he experiences. Here, in interpreting the unspecified referent of the postmaster's chevaline metaphor to be a group of men including himself, he selects the trope of phallic inflatability found in the treasure of Coyote rhetoric. (3) In so doing he also traces one of the traits of his character.

Many of these figures involve olfactory perceptions and what one could call olfactory reasoning. When the Mexican postmaster silently ignores the heart-shaped box of candy, setting it aside unopened to gather dust, the protagonist understands this as a sign of her having smelled alcohol on his breath.

   --it was because she didn't approve of men who drank. That was the last 
   thing he did before he left town; he did it because he had to, because 
   liquor was illegal on the reservation. So the last thing he did was have a 
   few drinks to carry home with him the same way other people stocked up on 
   lamb nipples or extra matches. She must have smelled it on his breath when 
   he handed her the candy because she didn't say anything and she left the 
   box under the counter by the old newspapers and balls of string. (258) 

In other words, from the point of view of the "objective" reader, the postmaster smelled that he is a drunken Indian. In so doing the postmaster and the "objective" reader would rely on a rhetoric of condescending, racist, anti-Indian stereotypes, rather than on the tropes of Coyote rhetoric. Interpreted according to the latter, the protagonist proves himself to be carefully bringing with him to the reservation what he cannot legally buy there. His logic is perfect. The "objective" reader can ground his/her objection to the protagonist's reasoning only in pre-conceived cultural figures of Indian debility. The racist "truth" of such a debility is validated by the law that prohibits alcohol on the reservation.

The protagonist motivates the postmaster's refusal to reciprocate his sweet love gift with an interpretation in which he relies upon his nose for proof of her jealousy: "She didn't approve of perfumed letters and she used to pretend the letters weren't there even when he could smell them and see their pastel edges sticking out of the pile in the general delivery slot" (257) and "[t]he postmaster was jealous of the letters that were coming, but she was the one who had sent him into the arms of Mrs. Sekakaku" (258). The protagonist knows love and jealousy when he smells it. Grammatically the "objective" reader cannot disprove the protagonist's olfactory reasoning.

The entry of a will into the protagonist, either from the outside or from the inside, is a metaphorically possible interpretation in a scene that occurs on the protagonist's way to Hopi. Once again the protagonist relies on his nose to reason. Once again this will is referred to in the text by the ambiguous use of the pronoun, it. Like the protagonist, it is left virtually unnamed in the story, (4) but its supplementing the protagonist's will in the course of his interpreting events in the narrative is portrayed in tropes that readily link it to Coyote, the trickster-gambler named in the poker metaphor of the story's title. When it emerges as the protagonist is climbing Hopi mesa, it is linked to his breathlessness:

   The last hundred feet up the wagon trail seemed the greatest distance to 
   him and he felt an unaccustomed tightness in his lungs. He knew it wasn't 
   old age--it was something else--something that wanted him to work for it. 
   (260; my italics) 

Here in the first occurrence, it can be read as referring back to "an unaccustomed tightness in his lungs" or to the cause of this breathlessness. In the second occurrence, however, the referent of it is explicitly left undetermined, and in the third occurrence it is said to refer explicitly to "something" that has a will and appears not to be located anywhere in particular. While the language does not name what it is, it does make clear that in having a will of its own, it is separate from the protagonist's will, but seeks to become one with that will: it is "something that wanted him to work for it."

Coyote, who is often figured as coprophilic and coprophagous, and who is noted for being long-winded (both physically and verbally), would appear to be breathing in the protagonist as he recovers from his unexplained shortness of breath. This is suggested by his finding encouragement in an olfactory experience the reader might "objectively" take to be repulsively discouraging: "A short distance past the outside toilets at the edge of the mesa top he got his breath back and their thick odor reassured him" (260). Similar to his Clatsop Chinook cousin, who consults his own feces for advice, Coyote here seems to take counsel in the odor of the Hopi toilets. (5) In this olfactory reassurance can be detected not only the trope of Coyote's practice of taking fecal counsel, but also a vision of fecal equality among the Pueblos, a bit of olfactory reasoning understandable in the form of a silently voiced joke: the protagonist "smells" that Hopi turds stink just like those of any other Pueblo.

As the exterior (or interior) will (or character) becomes more noticeable in the protagonist, the telling of the story itself begins to compete with the apparent telos of the story. The protagonist's reason for going to Hopi appears at first to be copulation and possibly even marriage with Mrs. Sekakaku. The Coyote loop and the double irony formed by tropes from Coyote rhetoric impart to the story a self-referentiality that invites the reader to ask just who is telling this story and why. With coprophilic Coyote breathing in him, the protagonist now "senses" that the alleged Hopi superiority in matters of sex and magic is only apparent; it resides in the mistaken belief that the patronizing and condescending third person narrators are actually objective. Spatially and temporally the referents of it, the tropes of Coyote rhetoric, equalize all the Pueblos. In so doing, they attenuate the teleological structure of the narrative. They make it hard to determine what the telos of the discourse is:

   He saw that one of the old toilets had tipped over and rolled down the side 
   of the mesa to the piles of stove ashes, broken bottles and corn shucks on 
   the slope below. He'd get along all right. Like a lot of people, at one 
   time he believed Hopi magic could outdo all the other Pueblos but now he 
   saw that it was all the same from time to time and place to place. When 
   Hopi men got tired of telling stories about all-nighters in Winslow motels 
   then probably the old men brought it around to magic and how they rigged 
   the Navajo tribal elections one year just by hiding some little painted 
   sticks over near Window Rock. Whatever it was he had come for, he was 
   ready. (260; my italics) 

What the unnamed protagonist thought he had come to Hopi for before Coyote entered or emerged in him--the telos of "his" story, as he at first understands it, and the underlying meaning, the counsel that he took from the highly perfumed letters Mrs. Sekakaku had sent him--was an all-nighter with him playing the role of the long-winded Laguna stud.

What he finds upon arriving, however, is another story in which condescending irony competes with the double irony of the Coyote story. Mrs. Sekakaku takes him by surprise from behind right after he has "checked his reflection in the window glass of [her] front door" in order to verify that his image does coincide with the words "she had written after he sent her the photographs," i.e. that "gray hair made him look dignified" (261). Here he is about to realize that she has assigned him a role in a story that she, not Coyote, is telling. In this story she is another person and he, motivated by pride and vanity, is the lecherous, gluttonous, and undignified butt of Hopi laughter: "The way the little dog was barking probably all the neighbors had seen him and were laughing" (261).

As he conjectures that Mrs. Sekakaku's story is not about the mutually longed-for tryst that he had read into her letters, he questions his own ability to interpret what is figured in a text:

   At first he thought his understanding of the English language must be 
   failing, that really she had only invited him over to Bean Dance, that he 
   had misread her letters when she said that a big house like hers was lonely 
   and that she did not like walking alone in the evenings from the water 
   faucet outside the village. (261-62) 

Upon further reflection, he decides that Mrs. Sekakaku has written the perfumed letters to bait him, to get first his photographs, his gift, and then him to be in her story. At this point of interpretive hesitation and revision, he experiences a breathlessness similar to the one he felt before the fecal reassurance of Coyote rhetoric:

   She had lured his letters and snapshots and the big poinsettia plant to 
   show off to her sisters and aunts, and now his visit so she could pretend 
   he had come uninvited, overcome with desire for her... The old auntie and 
   the dizzy spells gave her the perfect excuse and a story to protect her 
   respectability. It was only 2:30 but already she was folding a flannel 
   nightgown while she talked to her niece. And here he had been imagining the 
   night together the whole bus ride from Laguna--fingering the creases and 
   folds and the little rolls while she squeezed him with both hands. Their 
   night together had suddenly lifted off and up like a butterfly moving away 
   from him, and the breathlessness he had felt coming up the mesa returned. 
   (262; my italics) 

By this time the Coyote loop has returned to the scene upon which the story opened in medias res. Following this repeated breathlessness, it spontaneously re-emerges in the protagonist as a storytelling character, the medicine man, who invents its story as it goes along: (6)

   He was feeling bitter--if that's all it took then he'd find a way to get 
   that old woman out of bed. He said it without thinking--the words just 
   found his mouth and he said "excuse me ladies," straightening his belt 
   buckle as he walked across the room, "but it sounds to me like your poor 
   auntie is in bad shape." Mrs. Sekakaku's niece looked at him for the first 
   time all afternoon. "Is he a medicine man?" she asked her aunt and for an 
   instant he could see Mrs. Sekakaku hesitate he knew he had to say "Yes, 
   it's something I don't usually mention myself. Too many of those guys just 
   talk about it to attract women. But this is a serious case." (262; my 

In other words--in Coyote words--the breath-voice-will-character in the protagonist speaks where Mrs. Sekakaku hesitates speechless, and in so doing, it assumes command as storyteller and interpreter. Rather than as gluttonous fool or lecherous clown, it now speaks him as medicine man. His self-effacing modesty about this heretofore untold power implicitly contrasts with the Hopi men's immodest storytelling about their fast hands and all-nighters in Winslow, while opening the way to his own handiwork inventing a "traditional" cure for Aunt Mamie.

At this point the telos of its story is unknown to the protagonist. Like the Hopi women, he is an auditor of, as well as a character in the story that it is telling through him. In returning his focus to the telos that initially brought him to Hopi, i.e. sexual desire and the desire for a "fresh start" allowing him to escape his marginality at Laguna, the protagonist appears to risk losing his Coyote breath: "It was sounding so good that he was afraid he would start thinking about the space between the cheeks of the niece's ass and be unable to go on" (262; my italics). The spontaneous voice prevails, however, and it tells him as storytelling story and Coyote-medicine man.

As mentioned above, neither the narrator nor the protagonist explicitly names it. Instead, it is referred to in vague terms, such as momentum, which metaphorically combines the protagonist's storytelling impulse and the gambling metaphor of the story's title: "But the next thing he said was they had a cure they did at Laguna for dizzy spells like Aunt Mamie was having. He could feel a momentum somewhere inside himself--it wasn't hope, because he knew Mrs. Sekakaku had tricked him--but whatever it was it was going for broke" (262; my italics). This "momentum" would appear to be synonymous with the "Laguna luck" mentioned at the end of the story. It could perhaps be likened to the feeling gamblers speak of having when they are on a roll, when chance appears to be subject to the determinacy not of their own will but of some unexplained, benevolent will sometimes referred to exophorically as it. (7)

Following the logic of the gaming metaphor embodied in "going for broke," its telos is the double-or-nothing stake in the game the protagonist is playing with the Hopi storytellers. The chips in this stake are words, which rather than being convertible into coin of the realm, are convertible into story, which brings the secular and the sacred, the jocular and the serious together in the special cure. It is a story in which pure chance seems paradoxically determined by the narrative tradition Coyote is improvising. It is a story in which the so-called "real" medicine men, "the medical doctors from Keams Canyon ... and old man Ko'ite ... from Oraibi" (257), who come from either somewhere in the Western world or in the Pueblo world, are trumped by the "counterfeit" medicine man who comes out of Coyote rhetoric. It is a story where, since the "counterfeit" works and the "real" fails, the distinction between the real and the counterfeit is subtly questioned. It is a story where luck or fate is character.

As was noted above, the emergence of it in the protagonist coincides with his regaining his breath. At the point where the protagonist definitively takes command of Mrs. Sekakaku's story, her sudden exhalation can be interpreted within a thematic of "inspiration/expiration and inflation/deflation" to signal that the Coyote voice not only has displaced her as storyteller but is also on its way to taking the wind out of the Hopi men's stories of superior sexual taking the wind out of the Hopi men's stories of superior sexual and medicinal potency. This depends on keeping the men "marginalized" in the kivas, which are the center of the sacred Bean Dance matters to which they are attending, away from the new center where Coyote is inventing Aunt Mamie's rhetorical cure:

   "Well, not so fast," he said even though his heart was racing. "It won't 
   work unless everything is just so. All her clanswomen must come to her 
   house but there can't be any men there, not even out, side." He paused. He 
   knew exactly what to say. "This is very important. Otherwise the cure won't 
   work." Mrs. Sekakaku let out her breath suddenly and tightened her lips and 
   he knew that any men or boys not in the kivas preparing for Bean Dance 
   would be sent far away from Aunt Mamie's house. (263; my italics) 

Once in command of the story, the protagonist becomes the center of the women's culinary attention, allowing him to satisfy his Coyote appetite, while he reflects on the willful capriciousness of it:

   He looked over at the big loaf of fresh oven bread the niece had brought 
   when she came; they hadn't offered him any before, but now after she served 
   him a big bowl of chili beans she cut him a thick slice. It was all coming 
   back to him now about how good medicine men get treated and he wasn't 
   surprised at himself anymore. Once he got started he knew just how it 
   should go. It was getting it started that gave him trouble sometimes. (263; 
   my italics) 

Rubbing ashes onto the thighs of each woman of the Snow clan, one after the other, except Mrs. Sekakaku and Aunt Mamie, the protagonist steps outside of the linear temporality implicit in such a series of fondled female objects, experiencing what appears to be a timelessness in an ecstatic vision of soaring rhetorical uplift:

   The ashes were slippery and carried his hands up and around each curve each 
   fold each roll of flesh on their thighs. He reached high but his fingers 
   never strayed above the edge of the panty leg. They stepped in front of him 
   one after the other and he worked painstakingly with each one--the silvery 
   white ashes billowing up like clouds above skin dusted like early snow on 
   brown hills, and he lost all track of time. He closed his eyes so he could 
   feel them better--the folds of skin and flesh above the knee, little 
   crevices and creases like a hawk feels canyons and arroyos while he is 
   soaring. (264; my italics) 

Having gripped some thighs "as if they were something wild and fleet like antelope and rabbits" (264), the protagonist gives special attention to Mrs. Sekakaku, whom he recognizes by the "dimple and pucker at the edge of the garter" (264). Then he comes down from this timeless vision to re-enter a temporality that is distinctively linear. He sits breathless--deflated, so to speak--between the penultimate and ultimate objects of his medico-rhetorical attention: "He was out of breath and he knew he could not stand up to get to Aunt Mamie's bed so he bowed his head and pretended he was praying" (264).

At the beginning of this cure when all of the Snow Clan women have assembled, the protagonist glimpsed in their eyes a power which he then recognized to be greater than his:

   The initiated girls and the women sat serious and quiet with the ceremonial 
   presence the Hopis are famous for. Their eyes were full of the power the 
   clanswomen shared whenever they gathered together. He saw it clearly and he 
   never doubted its strength. Whatever he took, he'd have to run with it, but 
   the women would prevail as they always had. (263; my italics) 

The glimpse of this unnamed power reinforces the protagonist's inability to know the telos of the story in which the feminine, the matronly, would prevail over the masculine, the patronly. This unnamed power, which is linked with "ceremonial presence," is also referred to with the pronoun it. Thus, when Aunt Mamie ultimately rises up on her own and goes over to the fireplace for her turn, the telos of it as the unnamed "power the clanswomen shared whenever they gathered together" coincides with the telos of it as medico-rhetorical phallic Coyote power.

It would appear to have passed out of the now breathless protagonist into Aunt Mamie, whose renewed ribald vitality--in Freudian terms her Id--accounts for the efficacy of the special cure by Coyote rhetoric:

   "I feel better already. I'm not dizzy," the old woman said, not letting 
   anyone help her out of bed or walk with her to the fireplace. He rubbed her 
   thighs as carefully as he had rubbed the others, and he could tell by the 
   feel she'd probably live a long time. (264) 

In this story it is ultimately the women who wield the verbal phallic horse power, the equalizing storytelling power in Silko's Coyote version of the style indirect libre. The breathless protagonist knows this: "Whatever he took he'd have to run with it, but the women would prevail as they always had" (263; my italics). That power, linked with the Hopi ceremoniousness and with the Id, ultimately deflates and debunks both the stories told by Hopi men about their sexual superiority and the verbal phallic Coyote breath--the Coyote trope of phallic inflation--that has inflated the protagonist. In the Coyote loop it deflates and debunks the "supposed objective account" of the narrator in the style indirect libre, but it cannot keep from also deflating and debunking itself in the equalizing style of Coyote discourse.

Although, following the cure, Mrs. Sekakaku appears eager to welcome the protagonist into her bed--she kicks aside the little dog on which she had bestowed her affection earlier and symbolically blocks the opening of her oven to it--the protagonist senses that the telos of it as a story must remain ultimately rhetorical, oral and visual, rather than genital. The undetermined "whatever" (263) the protagonist realized he would have to run with, consists of pies and piki bread, the photograph of himself with the women of the Snow Clan in front of Aunt Mamie's fireplace, and the Coyote story of Aunt Mamie's "cure" which is photographically and verbally figured in his holding this "full house in his hand." Mrs. Sekakaku, whom the protagonist, upon having received her written invitation to come to Hopi, initially thought had "finally realized the kind of man he was" (258) will no doubt experience some realization to this effect when the story of Aunt Mamie's cure is told. In order for the protagonist to avoid becoming the subjective character in the condescending and patronizing free style discourse that will erupt when the men emerge from the kiva, his returning with culinary goodies and the story must remain the telos of the story. Otherwise the story could end as the story of his being chased breathless down the mesa and winding up battered or even dead, as Coyote sometimes is in traditional Coyote stories. He maintains his Coyote power by making his telling the story the telos: "But he told her he had to get back to Laguna right away because he had something important to tell the old man [sic]" (265).

For Coyote the storyteller, roguish gambler, lecher, glutton, coprophile, wanderer, thief, cheat, spoiler, clown, pragmatist, bricoleur, stud, and survivor, the story is always aleatory, never subject to one's "own" will. The protagonist returns home, with a photographic "vision" of the gaming pun--of himself as Coyote holding a full house in his hand--which he will show and gloss as he continues trying and trying with another gift for the Mexican woman: "He set aside a fine-looking cherry pie to give to the postmaster. Now that they were even again with the Hopi men maybe this Laguna luck would hold out a little while longer" (265; my italics). Thus, rather than coming to an end, the story "closes" as it opens onto the Coyote loop, perhaps even without the protagonist's realizing that in the "rhetoric" of its story it has "pictured" him as the character, Coyote.

Just as the unnamed will or story took over in the protagonist as he became Coyote-medicine-man-storyteller, so the story appears to have wanted to take over in Silko as she was writing it. In a letter to James Wright, which she accompanied with a manuscript entitled "Coyote Sits [my emphasis] With a Full House in His Hand," Silko wrote: "This is the story I told you I was working with in early August. It tried to become a novel during the second draft, but, after a week of fighting with it, I managed to determine that it should be a story" (Silko and Wright 90; my italics). Like her protagonist, Silko is fond of showing photographs to which stories can be traced. Holding Storyteller in his/her hand and having turned the last page of "Coyote Holds a Full House in His Hand," the reader can see a nearly entirely blank page and a photograph of Leslie Marmon Silko. Accompanied by three friendly dogs (one whose ratty coat makes it look a little like a coyote), dressed in what would appear to be men's Western wear, she sits smiling out at us with a look of warm irony on her plump face. As we hold this photograph of the writing storyteller in our hand and trace it to the story we have just read, Leslie Marmon Coyote, like the oral storyteller dolls invented in the 1960s by Pueblo potters, (8) holds a full house in her/his hand. Should we let patronizing and condescending irony keep us from enjoying the matronizing and equalizing feel of Coyote rhetoric? Ut pictura poesis.


(1.) "Myths from many tribes begin with variants on the words used as the title of Jarold Ramsey's book Coyote was Going There (1977)" (Bright 24).

(2.) Here the term Coyote loop describes both the circular narrative that is characteristic of Coyote stories and the hunting behavior of canis latrans which the following story illustrates: Early one fall morning on a walk near the South Canadian River in Northwestern Oklahoma, I noticed a group of fifteen or twenty wild turkeys moving slowly up a draw. Fascinated by their graceful stroll, I stopped to watch. Suddenly a coyote burst into their midst, snapping, leaping, twisting, trying repeatedly to catch breakfast as the frantic turkeys flew into the surrounding cottonwoods. Empty-mouthed, the coyote loped away in the direction from which it had come. Making a wide loop around a large, distant hill, it disappeared over the horizon. I stood nearly motionless for a while. As the turkeys slowly began to come down from the trees, I noticed that the coyote had reappeared on the other side of the hill and was looping back towards the draw from the other direction. The turkeys had just recommenced their stroll up the draw when the coyote burst into their midst. Once again it was unsuccessful, but even if the turkeys failed to realize it, Coyote and I knew that he would keep on trying and trying.

(3.) One could liken the problem posed by the protagonist's interpretation of this Mexican postmaster's chevaline metaphor to the theoretical problem with interpretation posed by de Man, an academic Coyote who in "Semiology and Rhetoric" comments on passages in which it is impossible to decide between grammar and rhetoric. Like Archie Bunker, whom de Man reads as figuring the arch-debunker, Jacques Derrida, Coyote repeatedly voices the rhetorical question that is not a question: "What's the difference!"

(4.) Jaskoski points out that the protagonist's mother "had called him `Sonny Boy'" (68). While sometimes used as a nickname in the same manner as terms like "Sonny," "Sis," or "Babe," "Sonny Boy" can also be used as a slightly reproachful form of address with which an adult, a parent in particular, signals his/her position of authority when admonishing a child. Jaskoski appears to place in doubt any motivated relationship between this name or nickname and the protagonist's identity: "who Sonny Boy really is and what happens to him remain enigmatic" (68). Thus, it would appear that she leaves open the possibility that Sonny Boy may be the eponymous Coyote. Nevertheless, each time Jaskoski names the protagonist "Sonny Boy," she strengthens the ironic contrast she draws between him as a "romantic" and "self-conscious, ineffective voyeur" and the "effective," "vigorous, conniving," and "powerful, appetite driven" Native American trickster, Coyote, to whom she seems to grant in actuality the character traits that she denies the protagonist.

(5.) Bright has adapted a Clatsop Chinook story in which Coyote speaks with his own "turds," receiving advice about taboos (38). Likewise Jay Miller refers to the "special power" Coyote received when his name was bestowed upon him by "the leader." This power "lived in Coyote's intestines until he summoned their help. At that moment, they came out and took the form of five feces or, as polite Colvilles say, turds. Coyote called them his younger siblings and asked their advice, which they always gave wisely" (Coyote Stories xii). In this failure to be repulsed by fecal matter the anonymous protagonist also calls to mind the scatological behavior of Pueblo clowns, which at times includes eating feces. Needless to say, canis latrans shares with other canines a semiotico-olfactory fascination with feces.

(6.) Bright refers to canis latrans' capability of learning new behavior and "`developing a whole new lifestyle" as neotony. Bright cites a zoologist, Hope Ryden, who attributes the coyote's "motivation and ability to learn" to having remained "dependent on their parents for a relatively long period" (55). The main thing the protagonist appears to have learned during his dependence upon his mother for a very long period is how to tell stories to justify his lifestyle.

(7.) It is interesting to see what happens in this text to the referential categories of McCarthy who distinguishes between anaphoric, cataphoric, and exophoric usages of pronouns. In the most common usage (the anaphoric) the pronoun refers back to a preceding linguistic context. In the less common cataphoric usage, the pronoun refers forward to something that is going to be mentioned later. In the exophoric usage, which McCarthy notes is very common in spoken discourse, the pronoun points outside the text to a situation or to an object. McCarthy's categories assume that written and spoken discourse is predominantly linear and can be correctly construed as being delimited by a beginning and an end, an inside and an outside. In Silko's text, which many critics find to be organized according to predominantly non-linear patterns such as a spider web (Danielson), the intersection of mythological temporality and narrative and the occurrence of narrative loops within narrative loops, as is common in Coyote stories, the distinction between endophoric and exophoric tends to break down as does the viable setting of contextual limits. The passages in which the pronoun it occurs are characterized by a dizzying referential whirligig that is simultaneously endophoric, exophoric, anaphoric, and cataphoric. Such is the world of a gambler on a roll or the world of discourse in a Coyote loop.

(8.) For an excellent illustrated history of the invention of the Pueblo storyteller doll, see Babcock and Monthan.

Works Cited

Babcock, Barbara A., and Guy and Doris Monthan. The Pueblo Storyteller: Development of a Figurative Ceramic Tradition. U of Arizona P, 1986.

Bright, William. A Coyote Reader. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.

Danielson, Linda L. "Storyteller: Grandmother Spider's Web." Journal of the Southwest 30.3 (1988): 325-55.

De Man, Paul. "Semiology and Rhetoric." diacritics 3.3 (1973): 27-33. Jaskoski, Helen. Leslie Marmon Silko: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1998.

McCarthy, Michael. "It, this and that." Advances in Written Text Analysis. Ed. Malcolm Coulthard. London: Routledge, 1994.

Miller, Jay. Introduction to the Bison Book Edition. Coyote Stories. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1990. v-xvii.

Mourning Dove. Coyote Stories. Introduction to the Bison Book Edition by Jay Miller. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1990.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Storyteller. New York: Seaver, 1981.

Silko, Leslie Marmon, and James Wright. Ed. Anne Wright. The Delicacy and Strength of Old Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright. St. Paul MN: Graywolf, 1985.

VanderWolk, William. "Gustave Flaubert." The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. Ed. Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994.

Brewster E. Fitz is an associate professor of English at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. He grew up in Northwestern Oklahoma and has studied, taught, and traveled in various parts of the world, including the People's Republic of China. He holds a PhD from Yale University in French literature. His research and teaching interests currently include cross-cultural literature, Native American literature, non-Western world literature, and literary theory. He is completing a book on Leslie Marmon Silko which will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

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