In Memorium, 1890
I think that blizzards are something real like men,
if men are dust and particles, and if they blow
like shadows between the centuries, so do these giant storms
that tread the prairies down
assume personalities and go
and not be seen again
but, in the seasons of snow,
there are games too great for men ever to understand,
there are games too vast for men to ever play,
games of the wind, games of the avalanche, of falling stones
or mountains poised in thought,
or games of lightning leaping
from sky to crag, games of wild forests burning
with animals for flames, or sparks on quiet breezes
creating holocausts that sweep aside
only at cataracts. I scarcely know
for what they marched or what they would consume
high on this pass
which has a wide road now
just forty years ago December played a different game,
a game of death with two men in a drift-stalled car.
But was there cold?
Yes, there was cold that came
straight from Canadian prairies on a wind that howled
like running wolves, a wind that carried
the murderous sleet from buffalo pastures
where no life remains,
the wind that crossed the dead at Wounded Knee.
I stand upon the pass remembering
the frantic labor at the broken chains,
the bleeding hands, one shovel, and no cars,
the wise ones all inside and we trapped there alone,
no cars, no cars. We made it but just barely,
luck and youth
not to be trusted now.
The wind is cold
still in that pass,
the wind is cold
across the whole stretch of the northern plains.
Luck and youth,
here in the high grey twilight I consider
what tiny particles are men intruding
sentience and will into the streaming curtain of the night.
Luck and youth,
I do not think that mountains
have thoughts for these.
I do not think the snow upon this wind
knows anything but cold since Wounded Knee.
I stand in memory upon the pass and feel the cold
clutch at my shaking hands,
my face dissolving in
the snows of Wounded Knee.
I think that something follows those who come
too close to where man has usurped
the blizzard's and the closing rock's prerogative
to underscore extinction.
The march of glaciers may be a cleansing
but in man
genocide is a pettiness.
We can attempt but never play with dignity
the great game of the elements.
I am glad for this survival
and my companion
forty years to contemplate
what is being prepared in the wild furnace of the mountain's heart.
The rock will close upon us
not having noticed
being immersed forever
in games too great for man,
ice, blizzards, the burst throat
of Krakatoa or of Thera,
deaths but not pettiness,
because not human,
something beyond time
quieting us in season
like a falling bird.
God grant far off no memory of Mylai or Wounded Knee
or even Homo sapiens unless his name
troubles the night wind.
One can hear him now, his death songs
muffled in all the snows of all the winters
in the world.
Extinction is an art too great for man, he bungles it
by obscene malice.
Mass death should be left to mountains, left to glaciers.
It should be left to the sand that covers
the boasting of fratricidal kings,
it should be left to prairie grass,
it should be left to the sea that floats lost timber
but never returns the wave-tossed mariner.
Listen, I warned you, you can hear the rising voices
not of wind only, not of snow.
This is the unmistakable sound of men in their own blood
here in the snowy Christmas of this pass.