Death Undignified

Written by: Debbie Guzzi

The summer sun was high. The heat was oppressive.
A whalebone corset dug into my body's tender parts.
Peering from the shop, my hand touches the pane
of dearly brought glass it vibrates with the hoof-beat of riders.
The weak, blue-sky pales, clouding over with the dust. 
Children playing hoop, let it drop with an unheard clatter.

Inside Fort Laramie’s provisioner, Mrs. Dreary's dropped-plate clatters.
Outside, a thunder of hoofs race pell-mell through heat, oppressive.
“Indians!” Children run through the street's 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 babe in arms runs up the stairs, baby screams in pain.

Arrow flights buzz by shattering the shop's 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, shards of glass scatter, bullet parted.
“Mame, git away from that window! Gener’l Connor’ll kill me if y’ur dusted.”

My eyes, now black and hollow as a barn owl's, tear, full of dust.
“Damn heathens,” Mr. Dreary cusses as bullets fly through broken panes.
He pulls me behind him and opens the useless glass door. “Thop” an arrow parts
his scalp. He falls back, landing beside me,his spurs clattering.
The baby screams again. I turn to see Mrs. Dreary's oppressive
grip on the child. “He’s dead.” She says grabs the Sharp and kills the next rider.

The soldiers finally arrive and chase the mongrel band of riders.
Mrs. Dreary, babe in one arm, Sharp in the other, kicks the 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 riders.
My brass buttons and flint arrowhead scrape the tub clattering,
no one in the street notices my departing in the day's dust.
My open mouth fills with bile and the rancid taste of pain.
“How improper,” was my last lucid thought, truly oppressive.

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