Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Poem: Buffalo Story

This poem originally appeared in Ellipsis.


Buffalo Story

nomadic mountain range,
sea of earth-shuddering currents,
profuse vegetation of gnarled fur--
giants who intoned like thunder
with communal hooves,
and carved unbounded trails
in mammalian rivers,

they never learned the diplomacy
of linear greed, never
pilfered the ground like a lattice;
and so barbed wire dismembered
their collective body
with techniques that disgusted
thistles and thorns.

each heroic leg
was chopped from the others.
the robust bosom
and the wind-strong abdomen
were quartered and drawn.
mineral brown eyes
and virile crescent horns
were ripped from the bearded crown.

the deepest soul
was carved with lead
into a pimpling of matted corpses--
as if each cell
of the prairie’s shaggy heart
had been skewered,
as if the flesh-like land
had been stabbed into pustules
of useless meat.

there were no more chants
to praise the buffalo,
no more masks in their name.
the people who worshipped them
muttered in gulches,
praying that a crucifix would not brand
their children’s throats.


  1. Like Mary Oliver's "Ghosts," this poem's reverence for the great "tantanka" that used to dominate our plains is offered up. Yet, Mary's love of the creature leads her to want to become one with their long-established roles in nature, and Chris's understanding of the buffalos' history leads him to resist, albeit after the fact, the white man's greed. If you get a chance, read these two poems together. Bravo, Chris!

  2. SW,

    Thank you as always for your support and commetns, which warm my heart.


    What a wonderful surprise, to get such a trenchant remark out of the blue. I don't know what to say, you're right about the greed, I want to merge with the animal but the animals and their human cousins are sundered of affinity. We're super efficient wolves and they are all deer--and I think at some level they know this, and we don't ...