The Last Dance

Wrapped in misty dawn, 
the painted warriors 
mounted painted ponies, 
slowly circling dying embers of the fire, 
that fire which painted dancing shadows 
on the darkened canyon walls the night before, 
while women, wailing songs, 
songs which brought the bison
to their waiting men 
for ages past remembrance, 
wept the tears that showed their loss of faith, 
tears of awful knowledge 
that the songs had lost their power.

All the songs are silent now, 
the singers mute 
and lying still in dreadful circles ‘round the fire, 
the children intertwined with mothers, 
silenced all in dark of night 
by creeping braves who, weeping, slit their throats
to rescue them from worse, from slow starvation, 
winter cold, and deep despair, 
in need abandoned by their gods
to pain, to loss of hope, 
to wondering why
their songs were met with anger.

Ponies prance and paw the frozen desert earth, 
while frosty mists wreathe flaring nostrils,
painting steamy auras in the air 
like white men’s iron horses
bringing greedy hunters, 
hunters shooting all they see,
hunters piling skulls of buffalo
in little mountains, 
leaving rotting flesh
that could have fed and clothed this tribe
and hundreds more,
thousands who are faced with death
from gnawing hunger. 

Sunrise paints the canyon walls
with desert golds and blazing reds, 
with brilliant orange streaks
that echo warpaint
on the sun-bronzed riders’ cheeks; 
they urge their ponies forward,
slowly first, then at a trot, 
toward the hunt the hunters know 
(but not the ponies)
hunts not bison in the flesh, 
but spirit buffalo; 
the silent hunters sing no longer
songs that once protected them from danger.

Moving swiftly now, 
the ponies carry grim-faced hunters 
past familiar canyon walls,
sweeping left and right
in high, forbidding cliffs that narrow like a funnel, 
forcing cornered prey to flee,
flee into a twisting pass that opens on a cliff,
high above a plain where jagged rocks
lie mingled with the sun-bleached bones –
bones of fallen bison
from those past successful hunts, 
those hunts retold and hailed by tribal elders.

Now, the bison gone, 
the hunters chase their ghosts
into the trap; 
their ponies gallop,
trained to trust their riders – 
plunging off the cliff,
pawing air in panic, 
solid ground beneath them vanished –
vanished as it did for bison
they had herded here to die  
in dreadful headlong flight to rocks below, 
rocks that crushed the skulls of buffalo
to feed the hungry, grateful tribe; 
so now, like hunted, die the hunters.


Written Apr 1999 by David L Brungart - © Copyright