Report to Crazy Horse

By William E. Stafford 1914–1993
All the Sioux were defeated. Our clan   
got poor, but a few got richer.
They fought two wars. I did not
take part. No one remembers your vision   
or even your real name. Now   
the children go to town and like   
loud music. I married a Christian.

Crazy Horse, it is not fair
to hide a new vision from you.
In our schools we are learning
to take aim when we talk, and we have   
found out our enemies. They shift when   
words do; they even change and hide   
in every person. A teacher here says   
hurt or scorned people are places   
where real enemies hide. He says   
we should not hurt or scorn anyone,   
but help them. And I will tell you   
in a brave way, the way Crazy Horse   
talked: that teacher is right.

I will tell you a strange thing:
at the rodeo, close to the grandstand,   
I saw a farm lady scared by a blown   
piece of paper; and at that place   
horses and policemen were no longer   
frightening, but suffering faces were,   
and the hunched-over backs of the old.

Crazy Horse, tell me if I am right:
these are the things we thought we were   
doing something about.

In your life you saw many strange things,   
and I will tell you another: now I salute   
the white man’s flag. But when I salute   
I hold my hand alertly on the heartbeat   
and remember all of us and how we depend   
on a steady pulse together. There are those   
who salute because they fear other flags   
or mean to use ours to chase them:   
I must not allow my part of saluting   
to mean this. All of our promises,   
our generous sayings to each other, our   
honorable intentions—those I affirm   
when I salute. At these times it is like   
shutting my eyes and joining a religious
colony at prayer in the gray dawn   
in the deep aisles of a church.

Now I have told you about new times.   
Yes, I know others will report
different things. They have been caught   
by weak ways. I tell you straight
the way it is now, and it is our way,   
the way we were trying to find.

The chokecherries along our valley
still bear a bright fruit. There is good
pottery clay north of here. I remember
our old places. When I pass the Musselshell
I run my hand along those old grooves in the rock.

William Stafford, “Report to Crazy Horse” from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1998)

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Poet William E. Stafford 1914–1993

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects History & Politics, Religion, Social Commentaries, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Epistle