On old Highway 20 the rides were rare.
Yellowthunder’s dense eyes followed from foot
to hill the split that broke along the bank
of clouds where trucks blew past and excited
the dust and grass. In Yellowthunder the sky
huddled its light like a fallen bird.
This July Fourth he hitched a morning ride
from a local farmer who said a few words
about corn hybrids. The fields twisted like water.
Rains Plenty was “offed ”
last spring, a hit and run.
Outside of Gordan
the farmer let him out.
The mid-day sun
clothed the sandhills
in blankets of shadows,
where from the south
Mother watched, measured
and sang from the bright
There were times
when ranches and lonesome
more than the past
blood of Korea. Nights
Yellowthunder saw flashes
from machine gun nests,
the dark flak spidering
above his head.
In the Badlands Yellowthunder wandered
and broke through where he rose in the soft hills
blown wild with sand, and when storms leaned in
and pitched cool rain, he danced in the pulse
of lightning. But as the yellow sky cracked
then filled the air, he returned to land stitched
with fence and asphalt.
Chaos ran like light.
Yellowthunder’s job at the local hardware
was tossing 150 pound bags
of Dekalb Seeds into old pickup beds.
Today he was paid enough cash to make
the trip worth it. He made his way through
the commotion of VFW DAY
beer tents and booths. As he slowly passed
POST 1063, the door broke open
and hands dragged him inside; the dark revolved
with smoke and loud whoops. His body pitched from chair
to table, a web of hands and shadows
flashed from all directions. Clumps of his hair
scattered the floor. He felt his clothes rip.
“Dance Injun,” yelled the man in a red tee-shirt.
A gun shone from a man’s bib-overalls
while the bartender handed red tee-shirt
a bottle. “Drink,” he said. “They love firewater.
Either dance, or take your chances out back.”
where white tail
clothes were torn off,
then hands dropped him
onto a table.
“A rain dance,”
red tee-shirt laughed.
“The sky’s been dry for a month.”
into his ankles and legs
and the sky opened and
screamed across the hills.
Yellowthunder was back in Korea
under mortar fire, shrapnel burned his thigh,
then back in the Badlands the cool earth
became his face. The sky was the same sky.