Young Man Afraid of His Horses

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What will keep you from telling it to everyone.

What will prevent you from perpetual disclosure: shame or privacy—words or the
sense that once said you cannot snatch the story back.

What you say will disseminate and break.

It will split out into the ether outlasting matter—ignoring teller—resisting
order—beyond reason—escaping even your own hold on the subject.

It will not fit into history.

You cannot keep yourself from speaking.
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Click here to read Caryl Pagel on the origin of the poem.

Photo:  “Buffalo in the mist” by Dave Morris; licensed under CC BY 2.0

Caryl Pagel:

Young Man Afraid of His Horses, a chief of the Oglala Sioux, a participant in Red Cloud’s War, witness of the mass slaughter of Native Americans by the United States Military in the late half of the 19th century, leader, negotiator, and participant in peace talks after the massacre at Wounded Knee, was the subject of a display I happened upon one summer afternoon while on a road trip with a friend through Nebraska and the Badlands in which we stopped at every scenic overpass, historical marker, kitschy western gallery, and Klown Doll Museum along the way. It is impossible not to be moved—changed—by the tragic history of the area, the alien moonscape, the terror of this comparatively recent local genocide and the barren, vanishing monuments that mark it. Perhaps you too have read the accounts, imagined or known the facts firsthand, or have been silenced, erased, vulnerable to danger, violence, pain, blank. Amidst the markers questions arose concerning the negative space left after disclosure, after telling. Telling sometimes leads to new wholeness, of course, but sometimes re-telling just expunges. The history documented and undocumented in that region is certainly not new news, but our news recalls us to it quickly. This is a bit of what was in mind when I wrote this poem, and still.