As children, my sister and I disinterred the holy relic of a coyote’s skull and became its sacristans. Half-sunk in the sun-parched prairie, it rested mid-descent beneath the wired gaps of a neighbor’s split rail fence; here, my father surmised, the animal had enmeshed itself some spring and strangled in the spastic frenzy of disentanglement.

We exhumed Nature’s luckless martyr and installed its flesh-stripped head on the altar of a backyard swing. Desiccated flaps of leathern skin clung still to the cap, and a blackish smudge befouled cavities of naked bone within—the detrital stain of rotted soft tissues.

Lest decomposition discredit sainthood, we raided the laundry room closet, emptied a jug of stain remover into a bucket, and submerged the skull in a makeshift chemical reliquary. We hid the vessel beneath the porch and waited three days, though the acrid bath dissolved little, and the yellowed bone emerged oblivion’s emblem, all its particulate holiness swirling bleach-seared somewhere between the bucket’s bottom and the yucca-thorned field behind us.

We sulked uphill toward the neighbor’s fence-line, where I knelt and returned the skull in a gesture of boyish contrition, raking dry earth over the dome with my fingers as if to say, this is yours.