Charles S. Kraszewski

 

 

 

(USA)

 

 

 

 

Indian Heads

 

My father dreamt of Indians ever since that day

When old man Stein plumped a nickel in his palm

For taking in the mail while he’d been away.

 

He dreamt the Yellowstone (that buffalo on the reverse);

He dreamt himself Iron Tail, and Two Moons, and Big Tree

And even Two Guns White Calf;

Blackfoot, Sioux, Kiowa

Or Cheyenne, my father dreamt himself

Gladly at cowboy-skirmishes near the collieries;

“You’re dead!  I shot you!” the snuffling cowboys would protest;

Unscathed, my father heeded them not, prancing over the culm banks

On the war pony he dreamt himself

With fierce war-whoops, secure in the Ghost Dance shirt

Woven of dreams; cowboys and sheriffs and wranglers in tears

As the bullets from their cold-chapped index fingers

Bounced harmlessly from his breast and shoulders,

like hailstones, just as Jack Wilson Wovoka prophesied.

 

My father dreamt a bronze, lithe, pulsing body

Beneath the profile of that fierce warrior

Molded one quarter only of nickel

The rest (yet somehow fittingly) of copper;

Never dreaming that

The Indian Head nickel was the white man’s

Sympathetic magic; the Indian’s Head

Preserved as a noble curiosity,

Presciently severed from the powerful torso,

Thrilling and threatening otherwise in every limb.

 

Thus my father, dreaming himself a Navajo,

A Pawnee or Apache christened Redsand;

Would his dreams have been different, had he been there,

Some ninety years before, when old chief Narbona

Was shot off his horse and scalped by a New Mexican militiaman;

(He died, they say, gazing southeast toward Mount Taylor,

Tsoodził, in Diné bizaad, as if that mattered,

As if any help could be expected thence:

Resplendent in turquoise, dark mist, female rain and beasts,

O Boy Who Carries One Turquoise

O Girl Who Carries One Grain of Corn

Why have you abandoned us?)

Richard and Edward Kern, the letter tells us,

Were dashed put out at the fact

That, in all the excitement, they had failed to secure

The head of the redskin for a scientist friend.

(Some weeks later, near Zuñi,

Richard corrected the earlier mishap,

Sneaking out of camp one night

To decapitate a Navajo

Executed some days earlier

For raiding sheep).

 

And Mangas Coloradas, the Apache chief

Gunned down in U.S. captivity,

Gunned down on the dusty floor of his adobe cell,

Also lost his head, having no choice in the matter, of course.

When measured, it was found to be larger than Daniel Webster’s,

“And the brain of corresponding weight”

As related to us by S. M. Barrett

In his book on Geronimo.

Unlike Geronimo’s skull, desecrated at Yale

By future presidents and captains of industry,

Mangas’ cranium, boiled of its flesh and sinews

Was packed off for display at the Smithsonian (they deny it)

Or perhaps Fowler’s Phrenological Cabinet in New York.

 

Such things no dreams are made of;

And my father, whose lame sister dreamt of “coming back

as an Injun — they lived pure,” preserved his empty dreams,

boycotting all Olympics summer and winter

for how they treated Wa-Tho-Huk (Jim Thorpe);

falling asleep at Hoop Dance and Buffalo Dance,

reading George Catlin, supporting Indian schools

from native Arizona to Montana;

(or shall we say, from Tohono O’odham to Crow and Cheyenne);

refusing to call his hometown anything but

Shawnee,

even though the masonic town fathers,

descendants of some called with no conscious sarcasm

Nativists

renamed it during his nonage, predictably,

“Plymouth.”

 

The night before he died

He knew it was coming.

Tomorrow, he said, at the latest.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha came last night

and told me.

Look: on the windowsill.

 

A primary feather, planted defiantly in the window jamb,

Rattling angrily in the burly blue wind,

A plume from the warrior’s roach of a redtail hawk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

Charles S. Kraszewski is a poet and translator from the Polish and Czech. His works have been published in Chaparral, The New Yorker, Red Ochre Lit, The Antaeus, Poetry South, Valley Voices, the Red River Review, OVS, the California Quarterly, and elsewhere, including on the boards of the Chicago Actors Ensemble. Newest books: Irresolute Heresiarch. Catholicism, Gnosticism and Paganism in the Poetry of Czesław Miłosz (criticism); Diet of Nails (poetry, forthcoming); Beast (poetry, forthcoming); Rossetti’s Armadillo (verse translations, forthcoming).

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