When winter’s brittle grip settles sure and deep upon the land,
and all the icy creeks and hillsides lay in her frozen hand,
then come the ragged midnight minstrels. Their chorus breaks the night
when the dark deep quiet lies beneath the round moon’s silvered light.
As I lay tucked in the heavy quilt, and hold my breath to hear,
voices of these reckless songsters run melodies, strange and clear,
that pierce the thin frosty windows of these ancient farmhouse walls,
and echo in the silent room with familiar, timeless calls.
Then, lo, this winter, another sound that flung me out of bed,
for from the henhouse came the protests of awful fear and dread.
In longjohns, drovercoat, and boots, I hurry through snow, kneedeep,
with rifle slung across my shoulder to try to stop the thief.
Yet he stole away with that poor hen (the one I liked the best)
and came again bringing several friends to whittle down the rest.
Bolder as each week went by, they even appeared at midday
to mock me from my own backyard then vanish quickly away.
I’d see them through the kitchen window and run to get my gun.
Though range was less then forty yards I’d never hit a one—
‘til one morning, across the field, at six hundred yards or so,
with gun a-rest on the top fence rail I laid one trickster low!
So the tally remained, as winter passed: eighteen chickens gone.
As for the thieves, though I’d many chances, I missed all but one.
Now, nights I lay and listen to the midnight minstrel singer,
howling the mournful, haunted dirge of “One Coyote Winter.“