Sunday, October 28, 2007

and belatedly, for beth...

Correspondence with A.E.Seale. chief of the Texas Prison System at Huntsville, Texas, in regard to the prison records of Big Tree and Satanta reveals that the two chiefs were received at the institution on November 12, 1871, each with a life sentence for murder, although some authors have stated that they entered the penitentiary November 12, 1871. Big Tree and Satanta were paroled August 19, 1873, but Satanta was returned as a violator November, 1874. (1)

W.A. (Bud) Morris and Joe Bryant of Mantague County conversed with Satanta while at the penitentiary (October 1878). Satanta had a talk with Mr. Morris and inquired if he thought the government would ever release him. Mr. Morris did not give any encouragement. Satanta seemed very despondent, and next morning, perhaps feeling his case hopeless, he committed suicide by jumping from a window or front story porch (reports conflict), October 11, 1878.

“I cannot wither and die like a dog in chains.”

The next day, Satanta slashed several arteries. An attendant stopped the bleeding and took him to the infirmary where he was lodged on the second floor. When the attendant left him alone, Satanta jumped from the landing. The prison record states that he died “from the effect of a fall received by voluntary jumping from a second story landing of the prison hospital.” (2)

1. Ida Lasater Huckaby. Ninety-Four Years in Jack County, 1854-1948. Texian Press: 1984. Waco,TX. P. 202.

2. Thomas F. Horton. History of Jack County: Being the Accounts of Pioneer Times Excerpted from Coutny Court Records, Indian Stories, Biographical Sketches and Interesting Events. Gazette Print,:Jacksboro, Texas. P.


“Maybe children wake to a love affair every other morning or so; if given any chance, they seem to like the sight and smell and feel of things so much. Falling for the world could be a thing that happens to them all the time. I hope so, I hope it is purely commonplace. I’m trying to imagine that it is, that our childhood love of things is perfectly justifiable. Think of light and how far it falls, to us. To fall we say, naming a fundamental way of going into the world—falling.”
-William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky

There is a farm, a lake whose shores still bear the imprint of your feet. There are bones of coyotes in piles along the fenceline that remember your name, and a lineage of grain that held your body when you jumped into silos, held there in the vision of sun through the opening above, shadowed hands reaching down to grasp yours and pull you up into the light again. In winter the pond froze over, and you were friends with the stinging wind, whose fingers like needles, worked their way through the red nylon weave of your jacket, the flimsy barrier between the cold and the small-bird of a heart knocking against the cage of little ribs. There was a dingey sky blanketing the yellow fields, a carbonate road winding off into the gray like a vein of crystal. It was cold, so cold the air pinched the skin between your nostrils, you who were poised in animal attention, listening. You discerned that the norther had a voice all its own, separate from the southerlies or easterlies. The North wind moans, you thought, it was a lonely sound like a ghost train culling the darkness with a single shaft of light flaying the dark skin of night, or a lonesome calf bawling for its mother. And as you thought these words you sang, Glory be to God on high…

The sleek dark bodies of Canadian geese gather on the frozen lake into a mass against the gale, clump together, for a moment blot out their own separateness, then divide in startled unison, the broad wingspans pushing steamy gusts toward your huddled shoulders. They rise clumsily off the ice, honking and flapping in awkward, jerking skyward movements, then drop gently onto the creaking, opaque sheet again, as if an unseen cartoon hand had suddenly let them go. They settle down into the inky hole of water not yet overtaken by ice. You scour the muddy shore for more rocks to throw, averting your eyes from the crucified coyotes hanging with slit throats on the barbed-wire fence at the edge of the cotton field. And on Earth peace and goodwill toward men…

Your hands were red and chapped, even shoved into the pockets of your corduroy pants they were numb, so you walked back along caliche road to the metal pole barn rising in a sharp angle to the plain, wind-formed in a perpetual leeward lean. There was a wooden enclosure, it is there still, and in one corner of the barn, you found a pushbroom set aside and forgotten against the splintered siding. You pushed it slowly as if in prayer, making patterns in the fine orange silt with the stiff bristles of the broom. We praise you…The pool of unthinking induced by the slow scratching of the bristles on the concrete floor was rippled by the clunking sound of broom head colliding with bucket. The suspect contents sloshed out onto the dirty floor, collecting into puddles of sepia mud. You peered into the bucket then turned suddenly away. Fleshy blobs floated in the blood black water. Your brain struggled to give these shapeless masses a context. They were animal, severed, unspeakable, what? You heard a snicker from the metal stairs that lead above the office where the hay was stored. It was Romero, the hired hand.

Romero makes a gesture near his groin with his hand still holding a cigarette," laughing. You looked back at the bucket, your face paling greenish and shoved your nose beneath the cold zipper of your windbreaker so you would not vomit onto the floor you had just swept.

Over the throbbing sound in your ears you heard the chatter of sparrows roosting high in the rafters of the metal barn, hollow echoes in the cold air. There was a propane heater inside Buddy’s office, but here next to the combines and the bags of sorghum, it was bone cold. Even the cats had disappeared, crawled into spaces between bales of hay. The grain dryer started up then with a whine, like a siren, ran for a deafening eternity during which you sang sotto voce the remainder of the fragment of the Creed, We thank you, we worship you and sacrifice you, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be Ah-men, then the dryer wound down, leaving the reverberations of its giant turning cylinders carving a headachey space between your ears.

The sparrows flitted down to pick over sprigs of straw, or candy wrappers or string, struggled in the fragile balance of gravity to return with the plunder to their nests near the ceiling. Sometimes it seemed the barn was a living creature, breathing with enormous lungs, and you, you were a creature inside clinging to its innards for warmth because you knew of no other shelter.

Romero finished his cigarette and walked down the metal stairs, his scuffed-up blood-stained boots slowly passed before your lowered head. You concentrated on the dust patterns on the floor. They were roads that you followed, circling spiraling roads leading up into the sky like the unseen roads the geese were supposed to follow south.

There was a road you remembered, from when you were still small enough to be slung up on your mama’s narrow hipbone. A cold day like this one, only sunny, your eyes squinched against the light that exposed the bareness of the land, the smooth arched whaleback of the earth spotted with cylindrical grain elevators. Your mother was thin, laughing, wearing a mint green dress that just touched the top of her kneecap, slender ankles cocked above high arches slipped into bone-white pumps, dressed more for an afternoon tea than to be tromping about in the dirt and tumbleweeds. Buddy drove with his wrist resting on the top of the steering wheel, raising two fingers in salute to passing pickups every once in a while, and occasionally swerving onto the shoulder of the road then jerking the pick-up back, so he could make your mama wince or gasp, and then she would laugh. He was taking you someplace special, to show you what he’d found on his hunting trip.

Buddy turned in on the loose gravel in front of a shoebox of a building. There was a lame horse hobbling around on the hardpan, and two longhorn steers huddled butt-end to the North wind that never seemed stop blowing the acrid sorghum smell into town, either that or the stench from the feed lot. You were lifted out of the pick-up and set down on the hard ground. And she held your dimpled hand as you stepped over Dr. Pepper bottles and shot-up beer cans, making your way to the chain link fence that enclosed a single dog run.

Do you want to look? your mama asked, you serious, digging the toe of your black paten Mary Janes into the orange soil. Your tiny hands gripped the cold steel and you poked your nose through the infinite linkages and infinite spaces between linkages, tasting the cold metal with your tongue.

Buddy strode around the back of the little dog house at the rear of the pen to bang on the wall of it, try to scare what was within, out. And he flushed out a mama raccoon wild-eyed, holding one of the babies by its scruff. Your mouth was poised in a perfect gasp of surprise, your Mama smiled, singing in a high-pitched voice Oh, How precious, and that was when it happened. First she swallowed the one she had by the scruff, just choked it down. Your Mama reached her gloved hand down to shield your eyes but she jerked your soft curled head away, for you had already seen the undeniable truth of it.

She ate all five of them, a visceral image that would become imprinted in the fore of your mind, an image you understood without having it explained and didn’t want it explained and would carry in your belly as a knowing about love that you would witness re-enacted countless times in your life and would never misunderstand the possibility, the inevitability of it. A cruelty wound tight with love, and inseparable from it.

It was this experience that must have awakened your mind to the many cruelties of farm life, or rather, farm death. The singular moment when something inside your small body became blind and ceased to see with an innocent child’s eyes.
But now you were older, an older sister, and you wondered sometimes how you would explain this brutal mother love to Billy when he was not a baby anymore. Billy, just born into the family line like a vein, the heart pumping into it not blood, but the life-sustaining liquid of worldly possessions.

Romero stopped, picked up the bucket and stepped off the concrete slab into dust, absorbed by the enveloping light of cloud cover. You could hear Buddy’s voice booming on the phone in the office inside that was filled with heavy wooden furniture that belonged to his father. Furniture that would one day be Billy’s. Buddy came out slamming the plywood office door behind him. Get in the truck, he told you, and you followed him out into the absence of sun, trotted around to the passenger side of the pick-up and scrambled in. You spoke beneath your breath the quick mumbled prayers you always said for the cottontails and coyotes and stray cats who might have been unfortunate enough to be loping along the highway just as Buddy’s pick-up truck came whining along the road. How you hated to see anything get hit. And by rote your lips mouthed the words of the contract, the terms being that you must repeat the entire Lord’s prayer before the truck reached the end of the caliche road where Buddy would turn off in a spewing of gravel toward town, For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.