Connolly’s Bar, The Little Bighorn Battlefield..., Second Phase Navajo Chief’s Blanket (circa 1872)
By: Gerald Wagoner
Liberty is stamped above the profile
of Noble Savage in feathered headdress
on both the liberty nickel
and the two and a half dollar gold piece.
It was twenty below beside the river
when red sun broke over
prairie frozen white.
The soldiers were ordered
to aim for the crux
where the Blackfeet tipi poles are tied.
Under collapsed heavy hides
the young, the old, the mothers
woke smothered in black
smoke and murder.
Since that morning, the noble grandchildren
spend afternoons at Connolly’s Bar
with one cheek in a stale puddle,
one hand caressing the long brown neck
of a Budweiser bottle.
In the beer section today
I found a new brand: Original Sin.
I asked the clerk how long
it took us to exhaust the original
permutations of sin.
I mean, after a while there’s a limit.
Some sins are original. The rest
just an endless pattern of hurt,
so feel at liberty to forget it happened.
The wind is not moved by weeping.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Faded vintage images, and columns of names
on cafe menus are damned lies.
Each cloud that day carried a name.
Names, in some Plains tribes, are verb derived.
Crazy Horse, or Sitting Bull is not the name
either man heard whispered hoarsely in the night.
I am told there was a boy who, that morning,
rode out with his father to tend the horses.
His American name was: He is Trouble, or maybe,
Plenty of Trouble, perhaps Deeds,
or just Deed.
I wonder how his mother called him to eat.
I wonder if he and his father
talked while riding.
He was ten.
I wonder if he was stalking
a bird or a butterfly, when
he became the first to die.
Second Phase Navajo Chief’s Blanket (circa 1872)
I remember a dust storm on the Pendleton farm.
Sky black like thunder. How grandma raced against
wind to slam shut summer windows.
I remember the hand-woven blanket on a closet shelf
was tattered, had a few holes, maybe rode in the wagon,
a wrap for the chill, later behind the pick-up seat.
It could have been my great grandmother’s, or maybe
her mother’s. Both go back. When grandma died, I took
the blanket. It was hefty; flexible, not supple. Smelled
of farmhouse and dry-land rain. I kept it years in a box.
One day it’s a Navajo Chief’s Blanket, Second Phase.
Cochineal dyed red bayeta cloth from Spain,
unraveled by hand, threaded lengthwise into
bold crimson stripes, two border, one center.
In the First Phase, a Kiowa or Ute chief traded
a hundred buffalo hides, or twenty horses for select
bred wool woven into simple striped patterns.
Draped, worn as a robe, the blanket gave dignity
and comfort. At night it covered the bed.
The Navajo resisted expulsion from their homeland.
They were chained, then force marched. Their crops
were burned. Their churro sheep killed. Their fine wool
forever lost. All to break their hearts.
We hide the past behind a quivering wall of inverted light;
mirages in photos of quaint native people in Monument
Valley herding sheep. But new sheep, Government sheep.
Indigo rectangles, a new element, accent
the blanket’s red fields like visual caesura.
Horizons hold fewer promises. Gnawing
unease is no longer assigned to winter when
white traders barter hard against the weavers.
Sell their blankets to anyone for money.
Two broad bands of undyed wool cut by a stripe
of dense black abuts the reds on either side.
In summer flat highways melt into pools of blue.
Storied Spider hangs from the belly of the sky,
interlaces chance into destiny. Weaves the habits
of indifference, the slow erasure, into gossamer
textiles that reveal motifs of grief beyond bullets
and shallow graves.
There is no lore for this blanket. Locked in a pattern
too perfect to escape, I lost the thread and did not ask.
Gerald Wagoner, b. Pendleton, Oregon, 1947, BA creative writing U of Montana, 1970; MFA sculpture SUNY Albany, NY 1983. has resided in Brooklyn, NY since 1983, Gerald’s sculptures and drawings have been exhibited in NYC at The Drawing Center, The Queens Museum, PS 1, and under the auspices of Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC). In 1986 he became a Studio-in-a-School artist, and from1988 to 2017 taught for the NYC Dept of Education. He writes poems and makes drawings to celebrate the rhythms of memory and wonder..
Publications: Right Hand Pointing, Ocotillo Review, Passager Journal Contest Issue, BigCityLit, The Lake, What Rough Beast Coronavirus Edition/ Indolent Books, Coffin Bell. J-Journal