The Wolves of Illinois

When I stopped along the road and climbed the platform that the wildlife people built, I saw the dead grass moving. A darker gold that broke free from the pale gold of the field.

"Wolves," said the man who stood beside me on the platform. On his other side stood his wife and children, I assumed, dressed as if they'd come from church,

a boy and girl, her scalp cross-hatched with partings from her braids. Note that this is my way of announcing they were black

or African-American, I am shy not only of the terminology but of the subject altogether

compounded by the matter of words, black being strong

if not so precise a descriptor—

and my being torn about the language makes me nervous from the start. "Look at the wolves," he told his children

before dropping a quarter in the scope, which I didn't need because I had my own binoculars

and know the names and field marks of the birds

(like the white rump of the marsh hawk)

so I include "the white rump of the marsh hawk" as it flies over the field.

"Those are coyotes," I said

with pity for the man's foolishness? is there a correlation between my knowledge and my pity?

(an inside joke: the marsh hawk's having been re-named the northern harrier,

though marsh hawk is stronger).

Plus what about the man's pity for the white girl with coyote in her mouth

—coyote in two syllables, the rancher's pronunciation—

when wolf is stronger. I wondered whether he was saving face before his family when he said, "No, those are wolves"

or did he only want his kids to feel the dangerous elation of the word?

I could not tell because they did not look at me, they who had come from praying to a God in whom I don't believe, though I am less smug about that not-belief

(could be wrong, I oftentimes suspect)

than I am about the wolves. Because I know the wolves were coyotes;

the wolves were coyotes

and so I said "There are no wolves in Illinois."

"No, those are wolves" the man said, turning toward his wife who offered me her twisted smile, freighted with pity or not I couldn't tell, the pity directed toward me another thing I couldn't tell, or toward her husband

the believer in wolves

(at least he was sticking by them, having staked his claim).

In the autumn withering, the eyes of the children were noticeably shining, but I only saw the sidelong long-lashed white part of their eyes as they stepped up to the scope.

"Check out the wolves," he said (the minutes ticking)

(the minutes nuzzling each other's flanks)

(the minutes shining in the furthest portion of the field

as whatever emerged from it entered it again.)