The Weight of Water (A Rhupunt)

The white man buys
With gold-plate lies.
His honor dies
On rocks that stand.

With greed, with guile,
Pale fists defile
The streams with bile
That poisons land:

“Hail, bottom line!
For leaks, a fine;
Let squaws drink wine!”
We understand

Their appetite
For oil will blight
Our sacred site,
Yet they demand

We yield this ground.*
Despoilers pound
The earth, and mound
Its bones and sand

With metal paws.
The hungry jaws
Of drill that gnaws
Devour our land.

Their serpent’s bite
Pours black of night
Through earth despite
Our protests and

Appeals to law.
So from the maw
Of death we claw
The dead, command

Their ghosts with dance,**
Add spear and lance
Of spirits’ stance
To human hand.

We string each bow
With words, strike blow
In court; the snow
We will withstand.

Foes agitate
With stones of hate;
Lakota wait
On rocks that stand.

* The Lakota protested construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the grounds that the project would contaminate their sole source of drinking water and disrupt their sacred lands. The completed pipeline passes under the Missouri River less than one mile upstream of the Standing Rock Reservation.

**By 1890 the Lakota faced starvation as a result of the U.S. Army’s systematic decimation of the buffalo, their primary food source. Members of the tribe began to practice the ghost dance, which was said to harness the spirits of the dead to fight on behalf of the living.  Sitting Bull was arrested for refusing to stop this practice, and the resulting conflict led to his death and the subsequent massacre of his supporters at Wounded Knee.

First published in the New Verse News, 28 Jan. 2017.