In caves hacked out by tomahawks
we traded knives and arrowheads,
pieces of pottery and bones.
That far out in the country
no teachers prowled, no little brothers
tagging along and crying after dark.
White caliche crumbled when we dug,
hoping for treasure buried by tribes
a thousand years ago, shovels of gold
inches away. Now, nothing tumbles
down this canyon but scorpions,
a coyote starving for the moon,
stray dogs dumped by cars from town.
Years before diggers uncovered skulls of bison
and wolves and mammoths, we believed
this canyon on the plains hid ghosts.
Huddled around fires, spitting bitter tobacco,
we held up bones and argued what they were,
human or buffalo, turning them over and over.
We told the old lies faithfully after dark—
the one about the maiden no one ever found,
the ghost looking for his bloody arm,
the slaughtered wagon train—and heard a cry
in the night long after any human voice
could have made the sound.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 8 Number 9, on page 43
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