Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Custer," by David Shumate

I passed near the Little Bighorn battlefield twice on my recent trip. I've always found it a fascinating place. I didn't stop this time, but I was near enough to find this teepee overlooking the battlefield. I really liked this poem on The Writer's Almanac today, and it seemed that the two should go together.
He is a hard one to write a poem about. Like Napolean.
Hannibal. Genghis Khan. Already so large in history. To do it
right, I have to sit down with him. At a place of his own
choosing. Probably a steakhouse. We take a table in a corner.
But people still recognize him, come up and slap him on the
back, say how much they enjoyed studying about him in school
and ask for his autograph. After he eats, he leans back and
lights up a cigar and asks me what I want to know. Notebook in
hand, I suggest that we start with the Little Big Horn and work
our way back. But I realize I have offended him. That he
would rather take it the other way around. So he rants on
about the Civil War, the way west, the loyalty of good soldiers
and now and then twists his long yellow hair with his fingers.
But when he gets to the part about Sitting Bull, about Crazy
Horse, he develops a twitch above his right eye, raises his
finger for the waiter, excuses himself and goes to the restroom
while I sit there along the bluffs with the entire Sioux nation,
awaiting his return.
"Custer" by David Shumate, from High Water Mark. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004.

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