She said, “He had the dream again
last night–woke up screaming,
darn near pushed me out of bed.
Wide-eyed, screaming, sweat
a-running off his face.
But he just don’t remember nothing.
Only says how tired he is, when he gets up.”
I said, “Why don’t you waken him?
If it was me, I’d want to quit that dream.”
“I tried it once, but Lord, he started crying.
“Did I kill the boy”, he said, and
“Did I kill the baby?” how he cried.
And I could give no comfort. In the end
he just fell back to sleep. But next day
in the afternoon, out of the blue,
he takes my arm so hard I was afraid–
he never does that– and he says,
“Don’t ever wake me, Martha.”
She said, “Last night I had the thought,
it’s never going to end.
He’s suffering in payment, and he’ll pay out
all his life. I hate to see it so.
He is a good man. And he was a soldier,
doing soldier’s work.”
“Martha, won’t he ever talk about it–
surely he must want to sometimes?”
Martha gestured toward a notebook
on the table. “That is who he talks to.
Years, he’s tried to write it down,
but what he writes, it hardly lasts a week
before he tears it out and starts again.
“The title page says, ‘Wounded Knee–
A Personal Account’. The rest is blank.
The only story is the grooves the pencils
make on underlying pages, when the top
is torn away. Sometimes I read it.
Troops were in the village, and an officer was killed.
Everybody started firing. Children, women,
little babies–fired on, or struck down with sabers.
And my husband there, with all the rest. I think
that we are living in a shadow, red and dark.”
“Time will heal,” I told her, and she said,
“For some wounds, time is only salt.”
Outside the dogs were barking.
Gravel crackling under wagon wheels,
harness sounds, and footsteps on the porch.
“Its him,” she said, “don’t mention that we talked.”
He straightened coming through the door–
“Company. How are you, Sarah?”
Grease and sweat-caked dust
had made his face a mask.
Still yet, he smiled to make me welcome,
rolled his sleeves and washed. Made small talk
on the corn and weather, gossiped on the neighbors,
told a joke. Watching him, I’d never guessed
the wildness and carnage slumber brought.
He asked if I would stay for supper,
but I thanked him, no; he asked if he could
drive me home–the team was still hooked up.
“No,” I said, “I need the exercise,” and then
got up to leave. Martha walked me out.
She pointed off across the barn lot,
where the land was cleared a ways
but never put to cultivation. “Look,” she said,
“The flowers. See them? Fifteen little plots.
He cares for them as if for graves. I think
they mark them: one for each. He never said.”
I did not speak to say good bye to Martha–
touched her on the arm, I think. How strange to me
the clearest image of that day so many years ago
is of those flowers. Some I could not name,
but I recall white trellises,
and roses in the shadows, red and dark.
Copyright Tony Martin
“Love, or Something Like It,” 2013