There is a place in Montana where the grass stands up two feet,
Yellow grass, white grass, the wind
On it like locust wings & the same shine.
Facing what I think was south, I could see a broad valley
& river, miles into the valley, that looked black & then trees.
To the west was more prairie, darker
Than where we stood, because the clouds
Covered it; a long shadow, like the edge of rain, racing towards us.
We had been driving all day, & the day before through South Dakota
Along the Rosebud, where the Sioux
Are now farmers, & go to school, & look like everyone.
In the reservation town there was a Sioux museum
& ‘trading post’, some implements inside: a longbow
Of shined wood that lay in its glass case, reflecting light.
The walls were covered with framed photographs.
The Oglala posed in fine dress in front of a few huts,
Some horses nearby: a feeling, even in those photographs
The size of a book, of spaciousness.
I wanted to ask about a Sioux holy man, whose life
I had recently read, & whose vision had gone on hopelessly
Past its time: I believed then that only a great loss
Could make us feel small enough to begin again.
The woman behind the counter
Talked endlessly on; there was no difference I could see
Between us, so I never asked.
The place in Montana
Was the Greasy Grass where Custer & the Seventh Cavalry fell,
A last important victory for the tribes. We had been driving
All day, hypnotized, & when we got out to enter
The small, flat American tourist center we began to argue.
And later, walking between the dry grass & reading plaques,
My wife made an ironic comment: I believe it hurt the land, not
Intentionally; it was only meant to hold us apart.
Later I read of Benteen & Ross & those who escaped,
But what I felt then was final: lying down, face
Against the warm side of a horse & feeling the lulls endlessly,
The silences just before death. The place might stand for death,
Every loss rejoined in a wide place;
Or it is rest, as it was after the long drive,
Nothing for miles but grass, a long valley to the south
& living in history. Or it is just a way of living
Gone, like our own, every moment.
Because what I have to do daily & what is done to me
Are a number of small indignities, I have to trust that
Many things we say to each other are not intentional,
That every indirect word will accumulate
Over the earth, & now, when we may be approaching
Something final, it seems important not to hurt the land.