American Muse: Wendy Rose

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“International Hour of Prayer for the Yellowstone Buffalo Herd”

Noon, March 6, 1997


From morning’s mouth
the bones emerge,
a prayer is whispered
over rounded horns;
the prairie is beyond
the quivering hump
and holy smoke sparkles
released in the breath.
Braided sweetgrass,
be about their hooves;
although the grip of hunger
lies heavy on the land,
let endless native grasses grow
among the yellow stones
and between the stars.
Even if only one man had
begun to sing, actually
it was thousands, She who came
to Wisconsin farmers
and transformed their lives,
She who brought her blessing
in the form of being newborn,
She whom they named the Miracle,
White Buffalo Calf Maiden must return
amid the fast firing of bullets, along
the most perilous of paths. Rock stars,
millionaires, they all offered millions of dollars
to struggling white farmers
but she had begun her transformation and her prophecy
by touching them and they came to understand
if not the actual words to the prayers
at least the reverence, the need
to protect, to keep the doors open.
Like it was a hundred years ago
bounties are gathered from death;
trains, buses, cars, planes
carry the segmented body of the terrible worm
across the land and the screams of the hunted
split the sun awake. It is time to restore
the stolen beads and shards,
the bones and knives to every grave.
And the graves are graves no longer but wombs;
the bounties burn their hands
and bones come flowing
from museum shelves
to dance in the rippling grass,
rebuilding lungs, starting hearts.
There must be a hundred men
and a hundred men’s worth
of heartlessness; wished they could find
Indians to kill but now that is illegal
so they make up some excuse
to raise their rifles and take aim,
not hearing the rumble
of buffalo prayer, not feeling
tomorrow tremble
or the prophecy of Miracle,
and smile as they see the legs give way,
the horns gouge open the prairie ground, Earth betrayed again.

Below – “Buffalo Herd Near Fort Yellowstone,” a photochrome postcard (1909).
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