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VI the way Now in the bleak fulfillment of the moon The ragged hundreds of Sitanka’s band,1 With many who had fought upon the Grand,2 Were fleeing southward from the Big Cheyenne. Behind them were the haunts of faithless men, The feeble-hearted and the worldly wise, And all the little deaths of compromise That are the barren living of the blind. What if the world they strove to leave behind Still clung a heavy burden on the old, And starving children shivered in the cold, And plodding mothers, with the bitter-sweet Remainder of their aching hearts to eat, Mourned for the wailing hungers at the breast? A little farther on there would be rest Forevermore, there would be warmth and food. But now the northwind found their solitude And, like the wolfish spirit of the world They fled from, all day long it howled and swirled About their going, loath to let them go, Too bitter for the pity of the snow That soothes and covers and is peace at last. Nightlong about their tepees raved the blast. The moonset and the morning came as one. Cold as the sinking moon, a triple sun Arose to mock them. Day was like a chain Of little linked eternities of pain They lengthened step by step. And all day long With feeble voices tortured into song They raised again the ancient litany With freezing tears for answer: “Pity me! Have pity on me, Father! All is lost!” Hunched to the driving needles of the frost, With tucked-in tails and ready for the crow, The ponies, now one flesh at last in woe With man, the master, swelled the feeble wail. They heard the wolves of chaos in the gale, And noting heeded, but the pain that cried, The cry of pain. The frail flesh, crucified, Forgot the Spirit. Truth was in the storm, And everlasting. Only to be warm, Only to eat a little and to rest, Only to reach that Haven of the Blest Amid the badlands!3 Were not Kicking Bear And all his faithful people waiting there With fire and shelter, food and friendly eyes? The sick hope built an Earthly Paradise, A stronghold set against the hounding fear Of iron-footed furies in the rear, For surely there the soldiers could not come. Once more night howled the moon down. Drifting dumb Before the wind on fire with flying rime,4 The aching center of a ring of Time 567 The Way That was the vast horizon glittering, All day they searched the south. No living thing Moved yonder. What had happened to the band Of young men riding to the Promised Land For succor? Was it days or years ago? Hope conjured ponies toiling in a row Across the prairie rim with heavy packs, And hunger matched the plenty on their backs With their delay. But, empty with despair, The frost-bleared eyes beheld the empty air, The empty earth. An irony of flame,5 The blown-out day flared whitely when they came At last to where the prairie, dropping sheer, With slowly yielding battlements of fear Confronts the badlands. Long forgotten rain Had carved a stairway to the lower plain, And there beside a clump of stunted plum They pitched their tepees. Purple dusk went numb With icy silence as the great wind froze Above the wall and ceased. And the moon ’rose With nibbled rim, already growing old, To flood with visibility of cold The aching stillness. Moaning hungers slept. But they who woke with dumb despair or wept Beside the tepee fires they kept alight, Heard in the moon’s mid-climbing of the night The sound of hoofs approaching and a shout That set the ponies neighing. Tumbling out, 568 the song of the messiah The village swarmed about the little band, Their skin-rack horses staggering to a stand With frosted muzzles drooping to the ground. There were no packs. Men searched without a sound Those moonlit faces, ghostly to the eyes That looking on no Earthly Paradise Had left so hollow and no longer young. “We saw,” one said, dismounting, with a tongue That stumbled as the feet that sought the warm, “We saw their ashes blowing in the storm. They have surrendered. They were starving too. We saw their ashes.”6 Shrill the mourning grew Among the women for the hope that failed, And in the tepees children woke and wailed In terror...


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