Magazine December 31, 2020, Issue

Wounded Warriors Ceremony

(Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

(a traditional Native American custom)

Before the Scalp Dance starts, we bring the wounded
And place their bodies in our circles’ centers,
To wash the wounds while certain songs are sounded,
Removing bits of flint and painted splinters.

Our custom — cleansing cuts and lacerations —
Unique among evangelizing whites,
Is likewise as peculiar to the nations
Who call us brothers, sharing other rites.

For this, there is no unifying feast
Sustaining us; in fact, a few will go
On fasting for a vision, facing east,
The tempo turned unusually slow.

We dance amid the scalps upon each pole
By special music, late in afternoon,
To make them spry once more, to leave them whole
When …

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