Winter/Christmas Art Spur, 2017-2018, “Coyote” (and poems for inspiration)

(Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, made possible by Carol M. Highsmith and the Gates Frontiers Fund Wyoming Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. We know many that are worthy of a poem or a song. In Art Spur, we invite poets and songwriters to let selections of Western art inspire their poetry and songs.

Our 47th piece offered to “spur” the imagination is a special Winter/Christmas Art Spur, a photograph by contemporary photographer, author, and publisher Carol M. Highsmith, titled, “A lone, and lean, coyote makes the best of wintertime the northernmost Wyoming reaches of Yellowstone National Park.”

The photograph is included in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive at The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The collection description notes that, “Highsmith, a distinguished and richly-published American photographer, has donated her work to the Library of Congress since 1992. Starting in 2002, Highsmith provided scans or photographs she shot digitally with new donations to allow rapid online access throughout the world. Her generosity in dedicating the rights to the American people for copyright free access also makes this Archive a very special visual resource.”

Find more about Carol Highsmith and her work at and on Facebook at Carol M. Highsmith’s America.



Submissions are welcome from all. Christmas-themed poems and lyrics had a deadline of Thursday, December 21, 2017. Winter-themed submissions have a deadline of Thursday, January 18, 2018.

Poets and songwriters are invited to be inspired by the photograph; a literal representation of the art is not expected.

•  Please follow our regular guidelines for content.

•  You may submit one poem, either Christmas- or winter-themed.

•  Send your poem to and note “Art Spur” in the subject line.

Selected poems will be posted.

Find previous Art Spur subjects here and at


Selected Christmas-themed Poems

“The Coyote Christmas Carol Choir,” by Marleen Bussma of Utah
“Christmas Song,” by Ol’ Jim Cathey of Texas
“Coyote Kin,” by Jean Mathisen Haugen of Wyoming
“Lonesome Coyote,” by Tamara Hillman of Arizona

Thanks to all who participated.


by Marleen Bussma

Contrary Harry gnaws and chomps the tip of Walter’s nose.
He mouths and grunts then side-steps as his satisfaction grows.
Impulsive Henry plans to hold a banquet as he steers
his body in position where he’ll serve up Chester’s ears.

Defiant Chester opens wide to munch on Harry’s tail.
They’re worked into a frenzy and most dining’s done by braille.
And then there’s Walter, meek, subdued, not joining in the stunt.
He doesn’t pester anyone, because he is the runt.

The coyote pups have been evicted from the family’s den.
Their mother is fed up with all the mischief there has been.
Just yesterday she caught them sneaking out to cross the range.
They wanted to be free and see some country for a change.

Mom saw the last tail bobbing like a cork on heavy seas
as naïve pups plunged down the precipice like refugees.
The terror of the coyote traps took hold and energized
her into action with the strength she never realized

she had to save her pups from danger. Chaos framed the scene.
Mom sputtered, fumed, and bristled like she’d had too much caffeine.
She scolded, chastised, lectured in a voice so very loud.
“Why can’t you canine pups behave and mind to make me proud?”

As Harry opened up his mouth she dared him to object.
Their shoulders slumped. Their heads dropped down. She thought she could detect
remorse. They now looked sheepish, sorry, and chagrined.
She hoped their youthful deviltry subsided like the wind.

The night is peaceful as the pups perch on a sandstone ledge.
They’ve promised to behave and not be wayward in a pledge
to mother. It’s no fun to be obedient they find.
Frustration brings out yips and yaps with howls. They’ve even whined!

Their outcry is more organized when Harry sings the lead.
Soon Henry joins with Chester and they blend the notes they need
for harmony that rises over rim rock and the trees.
Poor Walter struggles, tryin’ hard, but shrieks in sev’ral keys.

They sing the carols that drift high above the country church
where men and women congregate to worship as they search
for Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, an annual crusade.
The coyotes sit in silence as they let the last note fade.

Each night the siblings’ serenades are symphonies that teem
with Christmas cheer as mother listens to her life-long dream.
They raise their voices singing to the starry skies and moon,
including warbling Walter still stuck slightly out of tune.

© 2017, Marleen Bussma
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission


by Ol’ Jim Cathey

Indian summer soon changed to cold winter snow,
Heralding that Christmas time was near.
‘Course, it was just me an’ that that ol’ lineshack, you know,
That lonesome feelin’ was purty severe.

Lonely? It dang shore was! Made worse by the coyote’s yip.
A shiver went up an’ down my spine,
I’d best shake this off, calm down an’ get a grip,
Cup of hot coffee will make things fine.

Then my thoughts drifted through time, back to yesteryear,
I could see Pa readin’ from The Book,
‘Bout the Baby Jesus an’ Kings an’ Angels near,
An’ how shepherds, with their flocks, came to look.

The Christ Child lay in a manger that Holy night,
While Angels sang “Hosanna to the King.”
Then I could hear that coyote’s yippin’ at first light,
An’ I swear… I could hear the angels sing!

The angels sang a song of love with peace and hope,
Then joy seemed to seep into my heart,
An’ my troubled thoughts left me in a lope,
An’ I was feelin’ good, anxious for a fresh start.

Right then, my lonesomeness just seemed to melt away,
An’ a smile struck my face like a warm kiss,
So I bowed my head an’ with Christmas joy began to pray,
An’, that ol’ coyote yippin’ pure bliss.

I don’t often see ‘em, not more’n a glimpse at most,
But I was glad that he had come along,
As he slunk t’ward the river, sorta like a ghost,
An’ I said a silent thanks for his song.

Wal, Christmas is shore ‘nuff good, but chores must get done.
So I says, “Thank You Lord for yore way.”
Then I saddles up, head out to seek warmth from the sun,
Joggin’ along on that Christmas Day!

© 2017, Ol’ Jim Cathey 
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission


by Jean Mathisen Haugen

Slow up, coyote,
no need to run.
I’m just riding out,
don’t have my gun.

It’s a little sad
and passing strange
why you and me
can’t share the range.
We’re loners both
and you’re crippled some.
I’ve nearly forgot
where I come from.
Old dog coyote,
we should be pards.
Food’s scarce to come by.
Life has been hard
for both of us,
I’d tend to think.
So when I see you
I just wink
and head my horse
the other way
and tell the boss,
“No coyotes today.”
Slow up, coyote,
no need to flee,
’cause we are kin,
dog coyote and me.

© 2017, Jean Mathisen Haugen 
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission


by Tamara Hillman

Just look at that coyote
lurkin’ a far over there,
he reminds me of my younger days
when I had nary a care.

It didn’t matter the season—
snow or summer sun,
I lived my life plum’ for myself
an was an ornery son-of-a-gun.

Only foraged for food in my gut
an’ clothes to fit my need,
an’ a dog who loved me spite of it all,
an’ a wild horse for my steed.

I wondered ‘cross the country
an’ stopped but now & then,
hung my hat in a bunkhouse
when needin’ rest from sin.

I scuttled about from ranch to ranch—
pay poor, an’ work was mean,
hours from sunup ‘til darkness,
an’ like that coyote, I was lean,

But I never got discouraged
‘cause I was livin’ single
‘til a filly down ol’ Texas way
taught me how to mingle.

I’m still like that ol’ coyote
but in a different way,
got six kids an’ a pretty wife
who gave my life some sway.

I settled on a gnarly ranch—
a place to call my own,
an’ work the place from dusk ‘til dawn
with nary a grunt nor groan.

‘Cause now, ya see, that ol’ coyote
has matured into a fox,
I’ll not be freezin’ in the snow,
nor livin’ in a box.

I got me a real warm fire now,
a dog layin’ by my chair,
six kids an’ a wife who love me
an’ I sure ain’t got no cares.

© 2017, Tamara Hillman 
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission


A  few coyote poems, for inspiration:

by Robert Fletcher (1885-1972)

Aint no one loves a coyote
That I ever heard about.
He aint nuthin’ but a pestilence
Requirin’ stampin’ out.
A sneakin’, thievin’ rustler,—
A gray, ga’nt vagabone
Whose locoed vocal tendencies
Are lackin’ depth and tone.

Seems like he’s always hungry
And Lord, man, when he wails
It’s the concentrated sinfulness
From lost and vanished trails.
Well, there’s one of them Carusos
Hangs about the Lazy B
And makes hisself obnoxious
Most plum’ consistently.

So, one day, a cayuse dyin’
We surrounds the corpse with traps,
Where we’d cached it in a coulee
A thinkin’ that perhaps
In a moment inadvertent
That coyote will come around
And meet up with some damn tough luck,
And we will have him downed.

Sure enough, he made an error
For he let his appetite
Prevail agin his judgment
And we cinched him that same night.
He got one foot caught in a trap
And jumpin’ ’round about
Another gloms him by a laig
And sort of stretched him out.

Naw, pard, we didn’t shoot him,—
Jest aimed to give him hell,
We took and strapped around his neck
A jinglin’ little bell
And turned him loose to ramble,—
Yes,–I reckin’ it was cruel,—
Aint a cotton-tail or sage-hen
That is jest a plain damn fool

Enought to not take warnin’
When they heard that little bell,—
So he don’t get too much food nor
Company, I’m here to tell.
He’s an outlaw with his own kind
And his pickin’s pretty slim,
‘Cause ev’rywhere he goes that bell
Gives warnin’ that it’s him.

And sometimes when it’s gettin’ dusk
And ev’rything plum’ still,
I can hear that bell a tollin’
As he slips around a hill.
It kind of gets upon my nerves,—
That, and his mournful cry,
For I know the skunk is fond of livin’
Same as you or I.

One day I’m in the saddle
A twistin’ up a smoke,
When he sneaks our of a coulee,
And pard, it aint no joke,
When I see him starved and lonesome,
A lookin’ ‘most all in,—
Well, perhaps I’m chicken hearted,
But it seemed a dirty sin,

And besides, that bell, it haunts me,
Till there doesn’t seem to be
A way t’ square things but to put
Him out of misery.
So I takes my 30-30,
As he sits and gives a yell,—
I drawed a bead, and cracked away,—
And busted that damn bell!

…by Robert H. Fletcher, from “Prickly Pear Pomes,” 1920 chapbook


by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

The coyote of the western ranges
Survives despite all modern changes.
He views the world with dauntless drollery—
And does not practice birth controllery.

…S. Omar Barker, used with the permission of the S. Omar Barker estate


by S. Omar Barker (1895-1985)

Cry, coyote! Cry lonely at dawn
For days of a past unforgotten but gone;
For buffalo black on the wide, grassy plains,
In a land still unfettered by civilized chains.

Cry shrill for a moonrise undimmed by the glare
Of cities and highways. Who is there to share
With a slim little wolf all the longing he wails
From moon-mystic hilltops and shadowy trails?

Cry, coyote, gray ghost of the rimrock! Your cry
Still echoes in hearts where old memories lie.
Cry, coyote! Cry lonely at dawn
For open-range freedom now vanished and gone!

…S. Omar Barker, used with the permission of the S. Omar Barker estate