Custer's cavalry

Richard Rowley, for the Pulitzer Center

black smoke billows into a starless sky.

we were the ones who dried the canals and planted death in the river bank -
powder and steel among the reeds.
smallpox in a dakota blizzard.
boot leather on the slave-bricked streets.

custer's 7th cavalry dismounts in fallahat.
a hand pressed to the heart, just above his 9.

black points float in clear blue irises.
her rank is missing from her uniform.

why does nothing taste good?

the key twisted off in the ignition.
a bag full of hair and skin.
7 years old, shaking with sobs.
his rifle drags from a limp arm.

we could not see. . .
lungs gulped, blood clotted, young skin knitted itself together as fast as it could.
we did not know, we could not see,
how the metal had passed right through him.

who have we left alive to forgive us now?
a killer in the tall grass,
a thief among the white stone houses,
a stranger in the streets of the port city.

. . .
the hot wind steals my breath and presses me flat against the seat of the chopper.
i can not open my eyes, but feel the cool column of air over the river.

and we all want to believe
the wet wind will break the back
of our endless summer.

. . .
but no - the fire keeps burning.

and no - there are things in this world
that can never be forgiven.