Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ONE WORD, by ALFRED FRANCIS KREYMBORG



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ONE WORD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The arizona sky is a bowl of one word blue
Last Line: America?
Subject(s): Apache Indians; Arizona; Native Americans; Indians Of America; American Indians; Indians Of South America


The Arizona sky is a bowl of one word --
blue --
and the Arizona sun a demon of one word --
heat --
and Apache Kid --
offspring of the passion of an outlaw for a squaw --
a critter of the one word --
gun --
and the heart of Apache, the eye and the hand,
steady as Arizona peaks,
a trio led by a word four centuries old --
memory --
and this which follows,
one of the pioneer narratives,
mottled of fact and of fiction,
attributed to the cold
whirlpool of strategy
of that cub of the jungle
in his silent pursuit of the word --
revenge.
One Arizona midsummer dawn,
when thermometers ran crazy,
burst quick-silver mad,
and nobody sane showed his head to the sun,
Apache Kid,
roving stealthily --
as a hunted man must
who has hunted men and women to their graves --
happened on an insignificant,
but decidedly intrepid cabin
twenty miles out from the nearest white haven,
the little town of Tucson, pronounced Too-sonn.
For the penetrating mind,
two horses and two steers, grazing,
were the only moving things
in that expanse of desert
hemmed in by mountains and sky --
and for the hypothetical,
one other breathing thing,
probably a man, possibly a sleeping man,
inside the walls of the cabin.
Arizona walls never heralding interiors,
it was wisest as precaution
always to greet one's host --
you an Indian, he a pale-face --
with one's gun outside,
rather than inside the holster,
the butt nestling in the palm of one's hand,
one's finger on or near the trigger,
and the point waving
in the general direction of his heart:
not that this exquisite requisite
was urgent in the case of the Kid
and the particular man in the cabin:
the man was asleep, as still as a stone,
and as silent, except for his breathing.
Beyond peradventure, when he awoke,
had he given voice to his mood,
the man might have sounded vernacular oaths
under the circumstance
of being awakened by an Indian,
and that Indian the notorious
author of specific, artistic atrocities --
but this pale-face prospector
after gold or disaster
didn't give vent to even one word.
The point of Apache's gun
danced a slow pantomime --
dramatized precise directions --
indicated that the host
had better surrender his weapons --
which he did from under his blanket --
that he'd better dress himself --
which he did, and it didn't take him long --
that he'd better get breakfast for two --
better not be long with that either --
which he did -- toast and coffee.
Breakfast quickly over,
the point of the gun advised
that guest and host --
host preceding, guest following --
had best make further haste
(the dawn so short in Arizona,
scarcely any dawn with such a sky and such a sun)
and retire to the corral
to attend to the disposition
of the horses and steers --
said horses to revert to the Indian --
said steers to be left behind --
the one to be left free to roam,
the other to be consigned to an operation,
said operation to be performed by the host,
as illustrated by the guest
in dumb-show with a knife
cutting and slicing the air
in quick, staccato, long, legato
twists and gestures
to indicate that the steer,
one or the other, no matter which,
should be killed and then skinned --
and the knife, being tossed to the host and he catching it,
began the rapid and deft performance,
under the impulse of the point of the gun,
of so killing and so skinning.
There being no time
for skinning the full-length hide,
and actually no need of it --
the host,
working with admirable skill and agility
under the enforced inspiration of the guest,
was asked and ably fulfilled the suggestion
that long strips of the flesh
should be separated from the carcass
and be laid along the ground in approximate parallels.
Enough of the strips
peeled off and paralleled,
the point of the gun requested
that the host unbend his body
and stand up in front of the thongs --
he wasn't requested to remove his shirt,
bare his back, bend his back to be lashed --
he was merely directed to stand there,
close to the thongs,
with his back to the thongs.
The guest came behind,
prodded him just once
between the shoulder-blades
to demonstrate the eternal awareness
of the point of the gun --
and before very long --
the time growing shorter and shorter --
the body of the host --
that is to say,
from waist to shoulders, shoulders to waist,
arms pinioned both ways --
was wound round and round again
with the wet thongs of the steer.
The legs
were left free to walk or to run
to the nearest white haven,
left free to carry the host
and the tale of the host --
example and warning, if you please,
to the pale-faced brothers
twenty miles across the desert
and up through the mountains.
The Arizona sun,
left free to bake the earth
by the Arizona sky,
wanton to bake all things,
mobile or immobile, animate or inanimate,
on the face of the earth,
didn't leave the leg-free prisoner,
accustomed to riding or even to walking
twenty miles and more in a day --
couldn't leave him far to go,
considering the thongs,
considering that wet thongs --
especially blood thongs --
dry
and contract
under heat.
When the host was found --
by the pioneer who told me this tale
to whom it was told by the host himself
in the last breathing moments
vouchsafed by the thongs,
that had cut their logical way
into the body,
broken every rib in the body,
made of the once stout, muscular body
a wretched cylinder --
the only relief
to be brought to the prisoner
was simply to free and bury him
in the Arizona desert
under the Arizona blue --
along with the tale as I tell it to you,
as it was told to me, as it was told to him
by the man of not even one word
who had it from Apache Kid,
the critter of the one word --
revenge --
of the one word
in exchange for that of
conquest,
or annihilation,
or exploitation --
or whatever single word best describes
the landing of Cristoforo Colombo
on the shores he named --
or was it Amerigo Vespucci named
(my history is dusty)
by the one word --
America?




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