Ghost Dance

Dance for hope, in desperation.
Dance, and wear the spirit’s shield
That turns aside the soldiers’ bullets.
Dance and dance and never yield.

Return to us, our shaggy brothers!
Ten thousand hooves to pound the hills!
The bearded, humped-ones again will thunder
If you do as the spirit wills.
If you dance, if you believe,
The bison will come.
The soldiers will leave.

Black Hills, December 28, 1890

Pushed north out of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas,
Driven from Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota,
Cheated of our promised land,
We starve in the holy hills.
How to make them understand?
These veterans of an ugly war?
Weary and dirty and far from home,
The soldiers have been through this before.

But they fear the Sioux singing in the night.
“Give me the order, let me fight!”

Fire at will and see them fall.
Kill a few or kill them all,

A hundred and sixty dead and dying,
Old men and children in the snow.
Blizzard winds four days crying,
“Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, where did you go?”

Wounded Knee, March 2002

We turned off the interstate, headed through Cedar Ridge,
and arrived in Wounded Knee.
Or thought we had.
There was nothing there.
The town looked deserted,
or still sleeping in the early morning snow.
Gray, overcast, gloomy wind growling.
I dashed from warm car to heated building
(US Postal Service.)
But the Post Mistress said, “Sorry, I’m from Cedar Ridge,
Twelve miles away.
I just work here.
Isn’t there a sign or something?”
So we followed the signs
(“Divided we fall”)
(“Historical Marker, 1000 feet”)
found the story written on two sides of a weathered board
read it shivering in the wind.

All that day, as we drove through the high country,
wind and snow raged over rocky outcroppings,
across the tourist highway
and around billboards selling wonder cheap.
The hills wore black.
But somewhere, hidden deep in crystal caves
Or between the lines of inscribed history
Or behind a drunkard’s dull, dark gaze
The ghosts still dance.

Author’s note:
What happened at Wounded Knee? By 1890, the Sioux were a broken people, the bison exterminated, traditional Lakota land claimed by strangers, their strongest leaders dead. The message of the Paiute messiah fell upon receptive ears. Dance the prescribed dance, and this ugly reality will fade away. Wear the ghost shirt and soldiers’ bullets cannot hurt you. The bison will return and you will be transported to the realm of your ancestors.
Sitting Bull was killed in mid December. On December 29th, 1890, the Seventh Cavalry moved against the impoverished band to arrest another of their leaders.
When the shooting ended, nearly two hundred band members lay dead.

Author: Edna Ratliff

Edna Ratliff’s entry “A Sorceress, Turtle and Dwarf” won the prize for the November Byliner’s Writers Challenge (2011).

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2 Responses to Wounded Knee

  1. Eugene "Gene" Novogrodsky says:

    …thanks for reminding us!

  2. Walter Birdwell says:

    Powerful!

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