Sunday, July 15, 2012

   Counting Coup
There was a lot of death
and   dying up there,
and if I   remember correctly,
it gave me a bit of a thrill.
Of course there were the good guys
   and   the bad.
Both of which were in that process
   of dying unto death.
And I knew I was supposed to be
cheering for one side to
prevail over the other
but in truth,
I was somewhat indifferent.
It was the death; the dying.
Yea, and okay, the living as well.
That flux   in between.

We had yet to progress to post mortem
but that’s not to say that
the exact instant of death
can’t have a stench unto itself.
From where I was standing,
the expected smell of death
was mostly non-existent.
Rather, this death
smelled more like stale beer.
Fifty plus years of spilt pilsner
which had saturated those
rotting floorboards upon which I stood.

My father was awfully fond
   of that pool-hall.
Perhaps fonder still of the bar in the back.
Fond of those men
who shared his fondness.
There across from this bar and
upon the not too distant wall
   hung a painting.
A crude hunk of art which was
taller than I was at that age
and three times that measure wide.

And I stood on that barroom floor,
yet also stood within that painting.
But if you asked whether
I stood with the good guys or the bad,
I’m not sure I could tell you.

There were Americans in that painting
and I figure they had to be the good guys,
but then, isn’t that always the case?
There were Injuns… Indians.
   Native Americans.
Yes, Americans in that painting.
“The only good Injun      is a dead Injun.”
Now who was the American
who first came up with
that    delightful phrase?
Very likely the same asshole who
stands dead center of that painting.
Dead center.
                      Dead center.
Right where he was supposed to be.

Back in the Fall of 1967,
Canadian actor Wayne Maunder
was hired to portray
a character of infamy
in a prime time television show
   called        “Custer”.

And I as a child was mesmerized.
And I as an adult remain    mesmerized.
You see,
because George Armstrong Custer
   was portrayed as a hero.
Long-haired hippy Custer circa late Sixties
had his finger on all the issues of the day.
“Let’s sit around the camp-fire,
pass a well-packed peace pipe.
Yo Yo Yo, lite that thing up.
George.        Yellow Hair.
Whassup wit dat bogart, dude?”

So you had actor Fess Parker
   as Daniel Boone
and Wayne Maunder
   as Custer.
Both upstanding righteous guys.
Righteous.      Righteous Hell.
In that TV show,
Custer was friends with Crazy Horse.
They hung out.
Smoke a bowl or two.
Passed that bottle of Mad Dog
   without wiping off the lip.
Yea, a TV show’s rewrite of history
that surely brought
   a rancid rise of vomit
      to the entire Lakota Nation.

But there as a child,
standing beneath Custer’s Last Stand
   at the Little Big Horn,
I didn’t see the racism.
Held no comprehension
of the decades of genocide
that led those Lakota braves
to their final moment of payback.
And where that painting was
supposed to project the final moments
of one of America’s greatest heros,
for me it was no more than a still frame
   from a damn good snuff film.
Well… snuff painting perhaps.
Indeed, I as a child got to re-enact
Custer’s brutal death over and over again.
And my memory of this     pleases me.

As a youth, I suppose I
took the side of the Native American
   a little too often.
The “Noble   Savage.”
And just what   does that   mean?
Are we to assume that the Lakota,
or the Cherokee,
or the Mohawk, the Apache,
or any of the other
original indigenous nations
ever considered the term “Noble Savage”
   as endearing?

Osama Bin Ladin dies
and a nation of Americans
bust out their doors,
look up to the sky and
do a little victory dance.
George Armstrong Custer dies
and a nation of other Americans
   do exactly the same.
Noble Americans.
Mobile Americans.
Third-World Americans
force marched and
sequestered away in their
Third-World isolation.

As that same child,
a trip with my father
once took us in proximity
to an Indian reservation.
Descendents of those same warriors
who counted coup on Custer.
Those noble Indians
standing proud beneath their
regal war bonnets.

I wanted to see that.
I expressed so to my father,
and with a glint in his eye,
he agreed to take me to them.
Diverging from our course,
my father steered us
towards that reservation,
and as we traveled into the past,
I scanned the crests
of each and every adjacent hill
in search of feathered silhouette.
And yet we never actually
made it to the reservation.
Instead, my father drove us to a town
   there on the edge.

And there he pulled up in front of a bar.
And there father and son
pass from blazing sunlight
into the dim inky darkness
   of the bar’s interior.
And as eyes strain to adjust,
my father makes a
small flourish with his hand
and says,
There are your Indians.”

And I turn from the
whiteness of his gleaming smile
to the squalor of that saloon.
Before me I see
my precious Indians
collapsed upon the bar,
sprawled about
the assorted tables.
Passed out and
bodily strewn across the floor.

There     are your Indians.”

And I hear my father chuckle.
He finding mirth
in the destruction of
my naïve illusion.

Would that I might have gathered up
those assorted Native Americans
and taken them in mass
to a certain bar that prides itself
   of Custer’s Last Stand.
To usher them all down to the lone man
sitting drunk at the end of the bar.

“There,” I’d say.

“There’s my father.

There’s your White Man.

There’s your Custer.

He in his own
dying unto death
   Last Stand.

Do with him

what you will.”

c 2011 Jack Hubbell

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