Death Undignified, Fort Laramie 1860

Written by: Debbie Guzzi

The summer sun was high. The heat was oppressive.
The whalebone corset dug into the body's tender parts.
Peering from the shop, my hand touching the pane
of dearly brought glass, I feel the vibration of the incoming riders.
The weak blue sky pales, and clouds over with the dust. 
Children playing at hoop, let it drop with an unheard clatter.

Inside Fort Laramie’s provisioner, Mrs. Dreary’s dropped plate clatters.
Outside the general store, a thunder of hoofs race pell-mell through heat oppressive.
“Indians,” the children scream, running through the miasma of dust.
Folks in wagons and on horseback flee for other parts.
“Sioux,” I nod. Gunshots ring through the air savaging the riders.
The shopkeeper’s wife runs up the back stairs. Her baby screams in pain.

Arrow flights buzz by shattering shop window panes.
The indians leap from horse back to tile roof raising a clatter.
Mr. Dreary reaches for his Sharp shooter and aims at the riders.
A cat’s eye marble falls from the toy display, a mundane oppression.
Dreary slams shut the door. The shards of glass scatter, bullet parted.
“Mame, git away from that window now! Gener’l Connor’ll kill me if y’ur dusted.”

My eyes, now black and hollow as a barn owls, tear, full of dust.
“Damn heathens” Mr. Dreary cusses. Bullets clip through the broken pane.
Pulling me behind, opening the useless glass door. “Thop” an arrow parts
his scalp. He falls backward, landing beside me, spurs clattering.
The wee baby screams again and I turn to see Mrs. Dreary's oppressive
grip on the child. “He’s dead.” She says grabbing the Sharp. She kills a rider.

The arriving soldiers chase the mongrel band of heathen riders.
Mrs. Dreary, babe in one arm, Sharp in the other, kicks the fallen marble in the dust.
She walks through the door, out of one carnage into another type of oppression,
the soldiers are executing the Sioux braves. Children watch in pain.
Across the street a lone warrior perches. A roof tile clatters
to the dirt. His arrow flies and a soul is parted.

Falling with blind numbness, forward, down, parting
the water in the horse trough left for the incoming riders.
My brass buttons and flint arrowhead scrape the tub clattering,
no one in the street notices my departing in the days dust.
My open mouth fills with the rancid, taste of pain.
“How improper,” was my last lucid thought, oppressive.

The clatter of hoofs rocks my parting
The oppression of man against man leaves with the riders.
Only dust and the pain of the living remains.

Poet: Debbie Guzzi