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The Ghost Dance Part III

                                     Wovoka in the Feverland

In the Dying-Grass Moon came another winter to claim the old and sick.
This was when the first messengers came
To the desolation known as Pine Ridge.
They came riding in at the end of a century of tragedy,
A hundred years that broke an ancient people.
Their world now cold and hollow,
Where no god's voice was heard upon the winds.
Grey clouds scudded across a blank sky
And hung like a shroud over their conqueror's makeshift home for the defeated.
No god's voice answered to their listening hearts,
None heard any god's lament for their children lost,
Lost here, adrift in heart and mind
Beneath the bitter grey skies
Riding over them on chilling gusts, day by day.

The people beneath this sky were weary,
The future hung dim before their eyes
Their hearts dragged down like stones
A sorrow great and silent
Private and unshown,
A shared Eucharist of desperation.

Into this rode the messengers, outriders of a new prophet,
With words to lighten their heavy hearts,
Threads of hope for weakened hands to grasp at.

The one named Kicking Bear had seen this Messiah;
A voice had commanded him to go out and meet the ghosts of the gone-before
Who were soon to return, to walk the earth with their brethren.
He and some other pilgrims rode the Iron Horse as far towards sunset
As the tracks ran, and from there on riding for four suns
Until they came at last to the Paiute camp near Pyramid Lake.

The people there said that The Christ,
Son of the white people's great god,
Had come down to Earth once again.
They said He had sent for them to hear Him speak;
That this was foreordained.
Even now he awaited them two days' ride away at Walker Lake,
Full of important news for all the Indian brothers.
These people were full of a fine new spirit,
Good to all newcomers, infectious with hope.
Together they went to Walker Lake and waited there two days,
An expectant multitude milling about,
The same sort this Christ was said to have spoken to
Long ago, when last he appeared to men.

     As the sundown burnt the sky on the third day
     The mighty Christ appeared before the crowd.
     He appeared, and he was not white, as was expected.
     This time he manifested as a brown man like them,
     And his words were words of light and hope and love,
     Words of life to this dying people.

     He was old and wrinkled, scars upon his hands and face
     In tattered clothes and a hat too large,
     But his eyes cut like flint
     And he spoke as a strong man should speak.

These words and more were his:
"I will teach you how to dance a dance, and I want you to dance it."
And with that, The Christ rose and taught them the Dance of the Ghosts.
And with that, The Christ sang and danced with them far into the night.
Come the morning, he addressed them again.

He told them that God his Father had made the Earth,
And sent Him as teacher to the people.
He had first come to the white people, but they had treated Him badly,
Jeering, unbelieving, scarring His body.
So He had returned to Heaven and now He had returned.
His intent to restore things to how they first were,
Indeed to improve even upon that.

Come Springtime, Wovoka said, when grass waves to the knee on the plain,
The world would cover itself with a new skin of soil and bury all the whites.
Come Springtime, Wovoka said, the reborn land would cloak itself
With a brilliant blanket of sweet green grass, adorned with trees and rivers.
Come Springtime, Wovoka said, the vast thundering herds of buffalo,
The many-colored herds of wild horses, beautiful things well known once,
Would return forever.
Come Springtime, Wovoka said, the Indians who danced the Ghost Dance
Would be taken up into the air, suspended in glorious freedom
While the wave of new soil consumed the whites.
Come Springtime, Wovoka said, they would descend from the sky
Among the ghosts of their ancestors to stand on the fresh new world
And all would be young and strong again,
And live in harmony in this reborn time and place.
Come Springtime...

     The Springtime! The Springtime!
     So near! So soon!
     Can it be they were not forsaken after all?
     Can such a thing be, even when hope had died?
     Kicking Bear was stunned, yet he hoped and believed.
     After all, had he not dreamt of this?
     Was it not foreordained that he should be here?

     Aflame with desire to bring such news to those languishing back home,
     Kicking Bear and the rest rode the Iron Horse back
     To spread the word and way to every reservation they could reach.
     Wovoka himself never came to Pine Ridge, but his spirit did,
     And held court with those who danced there.
     They said he flew in the air above them as they rode,
     Teaching them new songs to sing as they traveled.
     Who's to say? It could be true.
     Who is to say what purer and more savage sight
     May have shown them in their fervor, hearts unfettered
     By the locks, the twistings and mists of civil, "ordered" life?
     Who would dare say?

They felt triumph rising from the ruins of despair,
That the mighty God of the whites, who gave such power,
Snatched it back in anger to give it to those they despised!
The hope caught on and lept in every heart in the hated Feverland.
Had not these whites treated their God's own son shamefully,
Like a toy a child breaks and forgets?
Who had listened to the words of that Son and paid them greater heed once heard?
The messengers brought the news of the Ghost Dance to Sitting Bull's people,
And soon there were many believers,
And in great groups they danced together.
Dancing through the night into the first light of dawn,
Dancing till they fainted, calling their lost warriors back.
Reeling, stamping the dust under the stars' cold light,
Calling to the dead through the frozen blackness.


Copyright © William Masonis


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  1. Date: 11/18/2015 7:32:00 PM

    Very awesome, William. I have been to Walker lake, and Pyramid Lake. Pyramid Lake is so turbulent, it is hard to fish there, it is a very dangerous lake. Perhaps the Spirits still dance there. I have read a story about how the Natives use to hear the voice of God, but they say that no one hears the voice anymore, and they are still waiting for one whom has ears to hear and one to dance. Very awesome poem. Happy Holidays to you and yours! Hugs, catie :)