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Poem: "The Migration at Wounded Knee" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "The Migration at Wounded Knee"

This poem came out of the July 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from kyleri.  It was sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  You can read about the Massacre at Wounded Knee online.  I have a warm spot in my heard for Pine Ridge Reservation; I think of that one as "mine" because we have (distant) family connections there and have visited the place.


The Migration at Wounded Knee


Wovoka saw a vision in the eclipse
when the Sun covered his face with black paint
and shouted strange advice into the minds of human beings.
The holy man picked himself up off the ground
and went to tell of the Ghost Dance.

He went forth and spoke to other people
about how the world would renew itself
if they forsook the wasicu  ways
and lived as their ancestors had lived.
Then the bison would return,
the dead would live again,
and the white men would bother them no more.

The Ghost Dance drew many followers,
some pacifists like Wovoka
but others among the warriors.
From the warriors came the first Shirt Men,
Kicking Bear and Short Bull,
whose spirit helpers taught them a way
to avoid the bullets of the white soldiers.

All across the land they traveled,
from Wovoka's home among the Paiute in Nevada
to the Lakota reservations
of Pine Ridge and Rosebud in South Dakota.
At last they made came in the Stronghold
and sent word for others to join them.

To Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapas they said,
"Come in secret, and watch out for police."
He snuck away by night, silent as a shadow.
To Big Foot of the Miniconjou they said,
"Do not wait for the whites and their friends to ask,
come to us now and be our brother again."
He, too, made his quiet way to the Stronghold.

When the Seventh Cavalry came,
the holy men consulted their spirit helpers
and refused to move to Wounded Knee Creek.
The odds were better at the Stronghold,
sturdy escarpment of Pine Ridge.

Frustrated, the cavalry opened fire --
and missed --
for the Shirt Men were neither here nor there,
and the Ghost Dancers were neither dead nor alive,
and the bullets stitched their way across the world.

Then the world began to come undone,
peeling itself apart like the rind of a fruit,
the Ghost Dancers caught up in one curl
and the Seventh Cavalry in another.

The world rolled itself up like that,
enclosing them in brief darkness
like a tie-him-up man in a blanket.
When it unrolled again, the Ghost Dancers
found themselves somewhere entirely else.

So there they were, a few hundred
Miniconjou and Lakota and assorted allies,
standing in a new world that was still
curling its edges closed like a flower at twilight,
with nothing but the shirts on their backs
and the weapons in their trembling hands.

In the distance, bison thundered along the horizon.
The air was clean, the grass was tall,
and the world was empty except for them.
Nobody had been shot, but one warrior
who had fallen from his horse and broken his neck
was still quite dead on the strange new ground.

Wovoka suddenly realized that if
the ancestors were going to come back
it would have to be through the bellies of the women
much as it had always been; and that if
they wanted to survive long enough for that,
they would have to rebuild their whole world.

Well, they had survived the wasicu  after all.
They could survive this too.
It was nothing but what they had prayed for.

Back in South Dakota,
Major Whitside stared at the empty reservation,
then buried his face in his hands and wondered how
he was supposed to explain magic  to President Harrison.

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