Elegy to the Sioux

By Norman Dubie b. 1945 Norman Dubie
The vase was made of clay
With spines of straw
For strength. The sunbaked vase
Soaked in a deep blue dye for days. The events in this wilderness,
Portrayed in the round of the vase,

Depend on shades of indigo against
The masked areas of the clay, a flat pearl color
To detail the big sky and snow...

This Montana field in winter is not sorrowful:
A bugle skips through notes:

We view it all somehow from the center of the field
And there are scattered groups of cavalry. Some of these
Men were seasoned by civil war. Their caps are blue.
Their canteens are frozen. The horses shake their heads
Bothered by beads of ice, the needles of ice
Forming at both sides of their great anvil heads.

The long, blue cloaks of the officers fall over the haunches
Of the horses. The ammunition wagons
Beside the woods are blurred by the snowy weather...

Beyond the wagons, farther even, into the woods
There is a sloping streambed. This is
The dark side of the vase which is often misunderstood.
From here through the bare trees there’s
A strange sight to be seen at the very middle of the field:

A valet is holding a bowl of cherries—archetype and rubric,
A general with white hair eats the fruit while introducing its color
Which will flow through the woods in early December.

An Indian woman came under dark clouds to give birth, unattended
In the deep wash inside the woods. She knew the weather

Could turn and staked the tips of two rooted spruce trees
To the earth to make a roof.
The deerskin of her robe is in her mouth. Her legs spread,
He feet are tied up in the roof of darkening spruce. No stars
Show through! But on the vase that belonged to a President
There are countless stars above the soldiers’ campfires...

With rawhide her feet are tied high in the spruce
And her right hand is left loose as if she were about
To ride a wild stallion
                            to its conclusion in a box canyon.

President Grant drinks bourbon from his boot. The Sioux
Cough in their blankets...

It snowed an hour more, and then the moon appeared. The
                  unborn infant,
Almost out on the forest floor, buckled and lodged. It died.
Its mother died. Just before she closed her eyes
She rubbed snow up and down inside of her bare thighs.

In the near field an idle, stylish horse raised one leg
To make a perfect right angle. Just then a ghost of snow formed
Over the tents of the soldiers,

It blows past the stylish, gray horse,
Unstopped it moves through woods, up the streambed,
And passes into the crude spruce shelter, into the raw open
Woman, her legs raised into sky—
Naked house of snow and ice! This gust of wind

Spent the night within the woman. At sunrise, it left her mouth
Tearing out trees, keeping the owls from sleep; it was angry now
And into the field it spilled, into the bivouac of pony soldiers
Who turned to the south, who turned back to the woods, who became

Still. Blue all over! If there is snow still unspooling in the mountains
Then there is time yet for the President to get his Indian vase
And to fill it with bourbon from his boot and to put flowers into it:
The flowers die in a window that looks out on a cherry tree
Which heavy with fruit drops a branch:
                                                            
                                                       torn to its very heartwood
By the red clusters of fruit, the branch fell
Like her leg and foot
Out of the sky into Montana...

Norman Dubie, “Elegy to Sioux” from The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001). www.coppercanyonpress.org

Source: The Mercy Seat: Collected & New Poems 1967-2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)

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Poet Norman Dubie b. 1945

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Nature, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

 Norman  Dubie

Biography

Norman Dubie was born in Barre, Vermont in 1945, the son of a radical minister and a nurse. Dubie began writing poetry at age eleven and was influenced by both his father’s Sunday sermons and his mother’s tales of hospital life. Acknowledging his debt as a writer to his parents, Dubie noted in an interview with Poets & Writers magazine that “I got the weirdest introduction to writing from them—my mother, because she would come . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

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