poetics of witness

photo by B
photo by B

The town where I was born has a museum that specializes in local history. The museum’s fame was ownership of a found prehistoric fossil. This piece of stone was remarkably well preserved, the spine of the evolved animal clearly intact. It turned out this grand jewel, this generational crowd pleaser, was actually a piece of broken feather from the statue of Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux holy man.

Local assholes used to ram the monument with their pickup trucks knocking the bust of Sitting Bull’s head off its pedestal and they’d shoot into the Sacagawea monument for fun. We used to try to count all the bullet holes during those long summers we were lucky enough to visit my grandparents.

Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Pinky’s ranch was only a few miles from the monuments. Their house was a special and magical place. There were lamps that turned on by touching plant leaves and a dining table that was the go-to place to listen to the reporting of current events and visions of the future.

I remember summers where cousins divided themselves along the intractable wedge of Boy George’s sexuality while Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA blared from the back of pickup trucks that drove too fast down roads that were tire ruts imprinted on the rich prairie soil. We saw monsters rise from ponds and were oblivious to the violence around us.

I want to tell my dying grandfather that I will never forget that burned cowhide is the smell of money. I want to tell him that his house was a refuge, a site of culture and learning about a world larger than I could imagine. I want to ask him if he remembers the fossilized feather and if he heard any of those shootings.

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