Rapid City wears its patriotism like a shroud.
Corner streets are populated with less than
life-size statues of past presidents
squinting at the distant Black Hills
where the grandeur of Mt. Rushmore
casually crumbles their bronze dreams.
Wax settlers, loggers and gold miners
stake claims with souvenir hunters
touring a mine, panning for fool’s gold.
In nearby Custer, 75 breaths from Wounded Knee,
shops hawk Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Geronimo t-shirts
proclaiming them “ The Original Founding Fathers.”
Mixed in are those in star-spangled letters and fireworks
proudly streaming “Welcome to America. Now Speak English.”
Rushmore was dynamited from a cliff
by a creator who spent the rest of his life
erecting grand Confederate gestures
out of virgin Georgia quartz monzonite—
finished and opened 100 years to the day
after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
Thirty minutes from Rushmore, existing in its shadow
on private land filled with dusty trails,
unfinished after seventy years,
probably still unfinished after twenty more,
facing away from these great stone faces,
emerging from the side of great Thunderhead Mountain,
on an ivory stead with a mane of flowing river and wind,
exists the Oglala Lakota warrior Tasunke Witko
the worm of Crazy Horse the Old and Rattling Blanket Woman,
sibling of Little Hawk and Laughing One, memory of the spirit of
Black Buffalo and White Cow who walked with an Iron Cane,
all enclosed with him in this massive breath of white stone.
The history of this great Indian space stretches the land,
four times higher than the Statue of Liberty,
extending beyond the warrior frown, the pointing left arm.
The horse’s ear alone is the size of a rusty reservation bus.
When finished it will be the largest sculpture in history,
bigger than the land, breath and all of Indian memory.
It was the Vision Quest of Chief Henry Standing Bear to show the whites that the red man had great heroes, too.
In a man named Korczak he found a kindred spirit,
a storyteller in stone, a survivor of Omaha Beach,
who when the first wife faltered, found a second
who gave him enough children to carry, sculpt the Bear Dream.
The big chief’s face is still the only finished part.
Korczak’s wife and children toil with the rest,
struggling to capture the essence of a warrior
who never allowed his shadow to be snared
in the false glow of the white man’s light,
trusting only the rain beams that fall
onto his people, mountains, plains and buffaloes,
onto Paha Sapa, “the heart of everything that is,”
where the Lakota huddled while the world was created,
now a land of broken treaties and dying dreams,
drenched in the dust of tears underneath,
while this white face torn from red gazes East.
Wounded Knee is not only the sight of an 1800’s Indian Massacre but the rumored burial spot of Sitting Bull.
The grand confederate gesture refers to Stone Mountain park, a Mt Rushmore etched with the faces of the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stone Wall Jackson.