Last Stand


(Composed in germ form at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, July 2011; edited and republished April 2014)


Custer always gets called a nasty
cuss; sure, he shouldn’t have done what he did,
but then I’m pretty sure that covers most of us.
It remains a shame that he had to die
in such a manner, at least in my mind.
Tactic, strategy, and history aside, it was tragic.

He must have been brave at his last stand:
it was his to be so — then, there,
and for however long he had, as he and
the remnant watched the yellow gorse wax orange,
besieged behind breastworks of dead horses,
The salt of death welling in their mouths.

The Allied Nations — Lakota, Cheyenne, Sioux.
They were brave, too, sealing their fate,
their diminution, with their victory here.
A bit of parallax, really:
here, on this knoll, they routed their foes in
a sacrifice, not a triumph.

As Sitting Bull’s retainers stormed this very hill,
each one a furious tornado,
I wonder if at the last the crushed sage
beneath their feet overpowered
The carbine-smoke and powder.
It would have been a better smell to die to.