After finishing Brian Walters’ The Retreat from Moscow I had a hard time deciding whether I should cite “The Rights of Man,” which discusses President Jefferson’s decision to allow Thomas Paine to return to America after writing the widely condemned The Age of Reason or this poem:
SITTING BULL IN MANHATTAN
Looking at the tall buildings of New York
he longs for the Black Hills, the dawns
and sunsets unimpeded by anything
other than clouds and snow drifts.
But he is here to perform a show for Buffalo Bill.
He’s told the audiences come especially
to see him. The man who killed Custer.
The show is not for hours
and now he wanders the pavements
of this monstrosity. Dodging carriages,
dodging people. Always drawing glances.
The gaping and the curious.
Giving pennies to the beggar-boys
scrounging at his feet, he remembers
couriers sent from the Big Chief in Washington
proclaiming the amenities of civilization.
He remembers too the blue-coats riding
greedily over the prairie, stealing
gold and buffalo and burning
tepees and raping squaws in their wake.
He wonders whether a single white man has ever lived
who was satisfied with merely waking
and walking bare feet across dews.
For the people here all walk
without watching where they step.
It was good Crazy Horse died when he did.
It wasn’t an easy decision because “The Rights of Man” focuses on issues that seem more relevant than ever in today’s political climate, issues I feel strongly about and wish more Americans knew about. However, I decided to discuss this one because it resonated more strongly with me, probably not too surprising considering that this blog focuses on nature and wildlife.
Those who remember my earlier discussion of Bury My Heart at Wound Knee will also remember that I’ve long identified with the plight of the Indians, perhaps more deeply lately because I also share Sitting Bull’s view of large cities, despite my love for fancy restaurants, playhouses, and art museums. I’d much rather spend my vacation in the wilderness than any city.
Charles emailed me after I told him that I’d finally read and commented on his book. He reminded me that he has published two other books , Vinland, and Watie’s Surrender and Other Civil War Narratives.