… and all the buffalo died

Authors note: I’ve always considered the line between prose and poetry to be arbitrary. Originally posted elsewhere in 2007

“Little Swallow”

The low voices carried in the still predawn air while fragrant smoke coiled in ropes across the tops of the poplar trees. The leaves were turning away from the green and towards the sleep of winter’s death. The bubbling river was chilled with the first frost while the rocks wrapped themselves in slumber. Chanting, always chanting; drums, hollow booms lifting the fog in slow increments. Thin and reedy, he could pick out her tone, even through the pain. Pain that ebbed as the sound of his blood striking the compacted dirt focused his awareness. The shuffling feet faded, the frantic rhythm of songs both timeless and fresh; all gave way to blessed blackness.

Warm air stroked his exposed flesh as he turned his head slowly and sat up. Grasslands reaching to the edge of forever greeted his opened eyes as silence struck at his ears. Nothing, nothing but sky and vegetation lay in all directions. Wildflowers lay burnt and trampled, their roots exposed in futile prayer. That, and the bleached bones of an entire nation. Heaps of calcium, stripped of rotted flesh, empty sockets weeping in mute appeal. His arms trembled as he pushed his body upright and staggered towards the mounds of white. Seizing a skull, the red prints of his bleeding hands stood out in stark relief as the visions ravaged his soul.

Gentle murmurs penetrated his awareness as the scent of broth caused his nose to flare. Sudden hunger gripped his stomach as the memories poured through his waking mind in a torrent of fear. Urgently opening his mouth to speak, the others surrounding bade him be still as she carefully feed him spoonful by spoonful the nourishment he craved. Meat, the last of it’s kind, slid down his throat and fueled his anger. He lay back exhausted on the blankets and gazed up to the hole at the top of the lodge. The dusty column of light moved slowly inch by inch, highlighting the seamed faces sitting very still; their eyes looking deep within.

Little Swallow raised his bandaged hands and gestured to the waiting Elders. Nodding, Howling Wolf shook his staff and addressed the spirits asking for intercession and guidance. As the yellow beam climbed the leather walls, the buffalo figure shone where it hung in isolation. The fur stirred, as if running full out, into a future that no longer existed. Little Swallow spoke now, and told them all of his journey. He told them of the plains, now barren of life. He told them of the piles of buffalo that no longer wore paths in the prairie. He told them of the fires that burned the lodges and the hunting grounds of the People. He told them that in his vision; their Nation had died.

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