History of Snow
BY SEAN PATRICK HILL
One is asked to remember but one cannot remember.
Remember Wounded Knee, they say.
One can look into the backyard a century later and see
Late December snow.
Among the clumps of snow, a few blades of grass.
To remember, you must recall yourself
Sleeping in the snow.
Remember yourself waking in the cold, under wool blankets
Frosted with breath.
Remember rising to piss, standing in the night,
The steaming puddle.
Think, the puddles of blood would have steamed
Reading your daughter a story, put your hand to the plaster.
Feel the cold pressing against the wall.
They’d have had only hides.
Look at the empty trees and recall in the photographs the bare bones
Of the teepees.
Recall the families sleeping on the street, New Year’s Eve, New York,
Bundled in cheap bags on the subway grates, steaming
As if the world bled beneath them.
As if they were bandages pressed to the hemorrhage.
As if they survived on that wound.
Outside, in the tenacious snow,
Grass blades spear upward like the fescue blooms, still-shot explosions
Between the bodies of women.
The soldiers stand with their bayonets among the dusted dead.
The puddles cannot find the drain and so freeze.
Bits of garbage in their hair.
I turn on the kitchen tap, the water runs cold.
My wife, after baking, leaves the oven door open
As my mother did mornings I dressed for school.
See me standing in the cold waiting for the bus.
I am going to learn the history of America.
The books will be largely black and white, the grays
The color of late December bunchgrass.
Once the grasses on the plains grew higher than the horses
Men spurred to cross.
Here, we mow the grass close to the soil, the black crickets
Skittering before the spinning blades.
We go to the fence to cut back the bird-dispersed pokeweed.
The shears stained berry red.
Willows are bent for the sweat lodge.
Willows like crooked talking sticks choking from the powdered rain.
Sunday church bells and the sun climbs,
Gets tangled in the netting of the naked oak bristling in the cold
Leather sheath of itself.
Every photograph suggests the day was overcast
With the shades of gray
Each teacher and politician will assure us exist.
There are, too, white men born of those shouldered bayonets
In dirty coats
Carrying bags of discarded beer cans to the grocery stores.
There is a white man in the uniform of night
Shooting a cashier at the Gas n’ Go.
To this day on the Warm Springs Reservation they go to the mountain,
Five glacial blankets and a beaded shawl of snowmelt lakes.
I’ve picked those huckleberries, jarred them as they have, infused them
In vodka, folded them in dough
And baked them, and left the oven door ajar.
Once I did a sweat lodge on the reservation.
You may use, I suppose, any number of stones to heat.
You might cut any thin wood to bend your poles, and willows
Will grow back out of the snow,
Go on stomping the ghost dance forever.
Deep calls unto deep
At the noise of your gathering puddle.
Bloody waves fall over us for seven generations or forever.
Walk over the snow to the trashcan
Through the bayonets.
Tools that dug the trenches in which the sewage pipes are laid
Are not unlike those that made ground for the dead.
Restless wanderers, we have found the banks, mounted on the half-starved
Horses of our debt.
The generals are well fed on our puddles of frozen fists,
Cramped fingers holding that pose forever.
We forget so easily.
By summer, no one remembers the first snap on the grass,
Cold feathers on the glass.
By summer the sky looks promising.
By summer the trees cover themselves with leaves and hide
The tawdry nests.
The cardinal’s nest is built of whatever is dead, and it is
A brittle nest wherein they sleep
They could not find the ravine and so froze.
See the tanagers perched in the cold waiting.
They are going to learn the history of America.
If there is a silver lining in the gray cloud, men will mine it
And leave tailings over the whole of the Dakotas.
Once I did a sweat lodge in the Oregon forest beneath Seekseekqua.
I had to look up that name as our mountains are frequently named
Where I was born
Washington sent two generals up the Susquehanna
To burn villages and pumpkin fields.
Where I would stand by the river, a teen, smoking
Soldiers drove cattle
And wrote in their journals of how fine the land would be for cultivation.
A blind woman they found stirring the sooty dirt with her finger.
A dog hung on a wampum post.
A white child in a field.
The ground, eventually, like us, like the women on Wounded Knee Creek,
The women lying in the snow,
Must get tired of crying out with blood.
Cries puddle and freeze.
And each year the snow tamps it down further into the earth
From which the willows rise
Hysterical in the wind.
Reading the story of Wounded Knee, put your hand to the plaster.
Feel the cold pressing against the hide.
If you have something other than your body to bury,
Other than choice…
Wounded Knee Creek runs cold.
The mind’s photographs, willow-thin and brittle.
In the sweat lodge, the stones grow so hot you can see straight
Into their hearts.
Pour water over them and they crack but do not bleed.
Only the wound survives.
Sean Patrick Hill is a graduate of the Warren Wilson College MFA program, and the author of three books of poems: Hibernaculum (Slash Pine Press, 2013), Interstitial (BlazeVOX, 2011), and The Imagined Field (Paper Kite Press, 2010). He has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Kentucky Arts Council, and the Elizabeth George Foundation. Author photo by Deena Fitzpatrick.