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7 Sacred Directions of Native America in Poetry
Shoshone Sundance 1892
7 Sacred Directions
Soldier Pony Buffalo Skull
As the Lakota fought losing battles
with so many blue coats from the east,
they noticed soldiers riding on ponies
carrying bright red white and blue flags,
and later, with care, painted that symbol
on a buffalo skull to place it high on a
cliddering cottonwood tree facing west
to give them strength during one of the
last sundances before they were outlawed
by the government whose symbol was
the fluttering stars and stripes forever,
and yet that painted skull still remains
here and there across the Great Plains
where the sundance is very much alive.
We climb a thirty-two foot
ladder toward a bright blue sky
until we all stand atop a tan
sandstone kiva courtyard of
the Balcony House deep within
a Mesa Verde cliff 700 feet above
the lurking depths of Soda Canyon
as a sudden wind whispers through
tufts of very aromatic pine, all the
while giving voice to timeless, lingering
spirits of the great Ancestral Pueblos'
spirits slowly seeping back into the
kiva's dark and sacred sipapu
to return to their sacred Mother Earth.
Black Elk's Thunder Beings
From West to East, thunder beings, thunder beings
rising white above the black of lower clouds
catch a rosy glint from the golden West.
Up they rise, ever higher, up to the Spirit,
the Great Spirit, the unifier, the unifier
sending fire down in bolts, jagged bolts,
scorching the wet green earth pelted white where
grasses sway and bend in rushes of wind
and cottonwoods clidder in torrents of rain
infusing matter with spirit across the plains
as rumbling thunder beings fade to dark of East,
and above the land, pinpoints of stars burn the sky.
A buffalo cloud forms in sky
while sundancers edge back
and forth from cottonwood tree
blowing their eaglebone whistles
for wholeness from the Great Spirit,
and as drums beat in glowing
firelight, buffalo cloud
disperses into the Milky Way.
Day ends and fear of death
until the morning sun
arises with fifty
piercing eaglebone whistles.
Red sun comes up
intoned with eaglebone whistles
as cottonwood branches
scent the air, fill the sky
where there is a union
through the human eye.
Bouncing dancers stretch
to touch the sacred
cottonwood with eagle plume
for a full renewal of
spirit and matter
at the center of
a green and branchy world
as sundance lodge
seems to swirl
in endless drumbeat.
We arrive at Palo Duro Canyon
in the light of a bright orange moon
to peer down eight hundred feet
through pinyon and juniper branches
at what was once the Comanche's
last stronghold in 1874 along with
Kiowas and Cheyennes camped
in safety from a thousand blue-coats.
While settlers would ask of the
Comanche, why is your heart so
defective when you light a fire
on the stomachs of your captives?
Comanches would ask why is your
heart so damn defective when you
chop into little pieces the flesh
of our warriors and cook it as
tasty bits of human meat to eat?
War, violence and vitriolic hatred
always seem to cut two ways.
General Ranald Mackenzie's troops
line the rim of Palo Duro Canyon
to peer down at five villages of
Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne
sleeping in calm security because
a medicine man told them they
would be safe from all the blue-coats.
Down, down, down come dismounted
soldiers holding their horses tight
and with great care to arrive at last
at the canyon bottom coated with
hackberries, cactus, wild cherries,
and mesquite--a raven's squawk
awakens the warriors from their
deep sleep to fight and flee on foot
from so many mounted blue-coats.
But Mackenzie orders his soldiers
not to pursue but rather burn the
Indian camps and kill one thousand
horses to be left in a huge, rotting pile.
Disheartened tribal people had no
other choice but to surrender later
at Fort Sill to end forever the massive
domain of the horse nations of the
Great Plains and Texas canyon country.
We stand in the silence of a Comanche moon,
almost hearing the snorts of one thousand
slain horses galloping in a forceful wind.
Perhaps the hooting of a mourning dove
speaks to us of the saddened souls of a once
great horse nation spread across the sky.
Chambered Ruins of Quivira
Quivira's stone walls darken with
clouds over a sandy pinyon hill
punctuated with podded yucca like
spirits protruding from the ground.
Sudden sonic booms from jets rumble
to re-create Spanish thunder sticks
four tired centuries ago when echoes
boomed through peopled chambers and
circular kivas still alive with an
ever-drawing presence down below.
Slowly silence returns first with
winds intoned by needles of sacred
junipers and then with wrens chirping
like Kachina spirits strong with sun.
Small pox rages.
Let us build a fire
to see if it goes higher
or if it goes out.
Magic spirit has answered.
Flames shoot skyward.
Mount mount, mount!
Sixteen race to the edge.
Oh, Great Spirit
make them well
with our blood and bones.
*Crow Indians (the Absaroke) in 1840's near what is today Billings, Montana. As a result of this sacrifice, The Great Spirit or Acabadadea restored health to the rest of the tribe.
For readers interested in poetry written by Native Americans, see Harper's Anthology of 20th-Century Native American Poetry (1988).