In The Summer After “Issue Year” Winter (1873)

I scratch earth around timpsila
on this hill, while below me,
hanging in still air, a hawk
searches the creekbed for my brothers.
Squat leaves, I’ll braid your roots
into such long ropes, they’ll cover
the rump of my stallion.
Withered flower, feed us now
buffalo rot in the waist-high grass.

Hear my sisters laugh?
They dream of feasts, of warriors
to owl dance with them
when this war is over. They don’t see
our children eating treebark, cornstalks,
these roots. Their eyes gleam
in shallow cheeks. The wagon people
do not think relationship is wealth.

Sisters, last night the wind
returned my prayer, allowing me to hear
Dog Soldiers singing at Ash Hollow.
I threw away my blanket
stained with lies.
Above the wings of my tipi,
I heard the old woman in Maka Sica
sigh for us. Then I knew
the distance of High Back Bone’s death-
fire from another world away. Even they
may never stop its motion.

Yesterday at noon, I heard
my Cheyenne sister moan as she waded
through deep snow before soldiers
cut up her corpse to sell
as souvenirs. Are my brothers
here? Ghosts bring all my joy.
I walk this good road between rock
and sky. They dare not threaten with death
one already dead.

Notes:

Timpsila is the Lakota word for wild turnip. Maka Sica is the Lakota word for the badlands in South Dakota. In the poem, I allude to several confrontations which were detailed in Baptiste’s Winter Count. He mentioned the Dog Soldiers who died fighting the cavalry at Ash Hollow and the death of High Back Bone who was one of the first to be shot with a bullet from a long distance. To kill an enemy from a distance was cowardly. This death showed the differences between the code of honor among Plains Indian warriors and the cavalry’s code of extermination.

Roberta Hill Whiteman, “In the Summer after ‘Issue Year’ Winter” from Philadelphia Flowers. Copyright © 1996 by Roberta Hill Whiteman. Used by permission of Holy Cow! Press, www.holycowpress.org.
Source: Philadelphia Flowers (Holy Cow! Press, 1996)
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