Wednesday, October 31, 2012


"It is a good day to die." --Sioux warrior, 1876

General George Armstrong Custer comes to the door,
looking dusty and dazed.
"Trick or treat," he says.

Life is full of awkward moments;
times when one wishes for the right words,
a bit of extra kindness,
and a sincere hope that one's face does not say too much.

This visitor is too tall to be a child,
and even a teenager would not appear at an adult's door this way,
bleeding from his arms, side and ears.
The visitor is too western to be Jesus,
having somehow located his cavalry boots and pulled them on;
he wears the boots, and nothing else but his golden curls.

What to do?
Invite him in?
Give him a seat on the davenport,
a nice mug of China black,
and the use of the telephone?

Who would George Armstrong Custer call, now?
His beloved Libby, dead since 1933?
She passed in the springtime, a widow for more than fifty years.
Theirs was a love match, and it was through her brave and tireless efforts
that his legend was created.
Custer! Hero!
And yet, now here he is, requesting candy like a five year old.

It would be easy to spout maxims.
It would be easy to regurgitate cheery bromides, such as "God never gives you more than you can handle."
What about Sioux?
What about Sans Arc?
What about all of Custer's brave men, scattered across a Montana prairie?
Perhaps it would be better just to sit with Custer for a while,
hold his hand,
even kiss him, if you can bear it, and say, tenderly, that the kiss was from Libby,
saved lo these many years.

In the end,
Custer will have to be turned out into the night.
Don't look at me like that, I don't like it either,
but he is dead
and was never meant to command again,
or love,
or even scratch the dog behind his ears...
King refuses to enter the parlor, and stands with his hackles up, growling,
no respecter of rank or reputation,
and knowing meat too old to be eaten when he smells it.

Goodbye, dear Custer,
American icon that you have become.
Please, take the porch flag to wrap yourself in.
Lie down in the garden with the mums,
and someone will play "Gary Owen" for you one last time.
Then, the lights must be turned out,
the candy put away,
and Halloween will be over,
leaving only a steady cold wind across what might be the Black Hills
or only Monroe, Michigan
on the chilly last night of October.

for Ella's challenge at Real Toads 


Cloudia said...

You are an American poet, and completely yourself. wonderful magic.

Aloha from Waikiki, my Friend
Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >

> < } } (°>


Sherry Blue Sky said...

Yes! This is Perfect. It reminds me of the time my ex went to the Dairy Queen to get us some treats and came home to tell me a naked man had come in, marched up to the startled clerks, and ordered ice cream. He got served very doubt!

I love the tone in this piece - the, especially, the hope one's face does not say too much. I have the kind of face - like my grandma's - that DOES. It is impossible not to know what I am thinking.

Wistful and poignant story. Beautifully done. You should so be famous.

TexWisGirl said...

how interesting. i like the tenderness, yet wanting to hold him at arm's length because of the part of history he inflicted on so many others. loved this line:
knowing meat too old to be eaten when he smells it.

you are pretty darn amazing.

hedgewitch said...

I don't know that I could compassionate Custer's ghost this well...but in so many ways he's more than himself--the ghost of a time, a place, a country,an avalanching mistake, that somehow has ended up here, surrounded. I don't know if there's enough candy for that kind of Halloween. An elusive, haunting(of course) piece.

Ella said...

A historic ghost, with his pride adrift~ Fun to read and imagine!
Yes, you could be famous...where if your book with enchanting spells, I mean poems~

Happy Halloween

Helen said...

... and when you are famous, will you remember 'us little guys?' Somehow, I think you will.

Lynn said...

That's awesome, Shay.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievably amazing. One of your best, Shay.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I love this story for the imaginative possibility it contains. My favourite stanza is the penultimate one, when the speaker confides to the reader that Custer will have to be evicted from the present and sent back to the annals of history.

Carrie Burtt said...

Your imagination is as wide as the sea Shay....this is Titanic worthy! Love it! :-)

Anonymous said...

oh, yes! you SHOULD be SO famous!!! more famous {but less infamous} than Custer!

FABulous Halloween poem!

Mama Zen said...

You are kinder to Custer than I would be, I fear. This is extraordinary.