Wounded Knee

Years since I’d been back
to the memorial; I’d forgotten
it was up on a rise above
the killing ground. Two kids
appeared in the dust with things
to sell—once coming from the far
end of the chain-link, two kinds
of dream-catchers hanging
from his arm; and the girl, hunched
on the broken steps under
the arch’s improbable cross, cradling
a Tupperware bowl of beaded
star-necklaces in her lap. Her pink-
and-silver t-shirt read PRINCESS.
I shut my car door, and a grouse
startled off the fence, veered away
over bent switchgrass. The girl—
Allie—said her little sisters made
the jewelry, in the gray house
at the base of the hill; maybe
her price included the pictures I
walked behind her to take: the marker
for 1890, then the more recent
graves, in ground seared and
hardpanned by wind and snow and
desolation; tied, bandana-pouches
of tobacco, and ribbons, like fists
and fingers shifting and fluttering;
a few tough bright flowers left;
gray-blue sky rolling above
to the edges of horizon all around,
spitting, cooking up a storm.
I stood and turned back toward
the arch again, where Allie and
her friend, if he was a friend, hadn’t
spoken a word to one another.
For the first time in my life
I wished I’d had some cigarettes—
to smoke with them, at least offer,
something to do with strangers you
might sit a while beside till maybe
one of you thought of something
to say. A little thunder crackled,
and we said goodbye; I drove on
toward the shaft of rain above
Manderson.  No reason to think I’d
be any memory to them; a dream-
catcher sold, a brilliant blue
necklace. I passed a knocked-over
vote Democrat sign, and two younger
kids working on a bike upside-down,
and remembered the small bowls,
empty now, brought and offered
at the graves surrounded for miles
by graves never found. Rain would
fill them, lift the reservoirs, clear
the air. I thought of reaching over
to pop the camera-back open; turned
from dirt onto narrow blacktop,
the road out, that was steaming.

Debra Nystrom, "Offerings" from Night Sky Frequencies. Copyright © 2016 by Debra Nystrom. Reprinted by permission of The Sheep Meadow Press.
Source: Night Sky Frequencies (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2016)
More Poems by Debra Nystrom