Art: “War Horse of Babylon” by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, an artist of Salish, French-Cree, and Shoshone heritage
He had come down from the Owl Creek Mountains on foot, this pure Shoshone soul, Johnny Whitehorse. Chasing a dream of better and more, he was, at a tender age and fresh off the reservation for the first time ever. He’d followed the flow of the rivers and the feel and smell of the wind sweeping down off the mountain ranges that converged at the outskirts of Laramie.
He’d bathed in a small lake and then followed the scent of dried hay and human sweat, past the railroad and on down toward town. He was closing in on a rattletrap of sounds and sicky-sweet smells. The confusion of it grew with every step and culminated at the sight of towering metallic structures and the sound of yelling and screaming and strange clunking and tinkly sounds.
The tangled mess had stirred a mix of curiosity and vigilance in Johnny and he slowed and softened his footsteps. He soon found himself up against miles of fence that penned in cars arranged just so, and huge and tiny tents in rows with people milling about and rushing in and out. He had begun to skirt the fence when a bizarre, fattened creature covered with bright-colored diamonds slammed into him and clung to him, chattering.
Johnny had kept trying to push the creature away but it kept springing back at him. It was a terrifying sight with its huge feet and its frightening white face and frozen, mocking smile. He’d thought then that perhaps it was a spirit but he couldn’t feel the nature of it. It was blank, nothing, like the vacant eyes and open jaws of a great white shark. Adrenaline had become like a geyser within Johnny and he’d overpowered the creature and bashed its horrible face into the rocky ground until it was dead.
And now he was in a death watch cell in Rawlins sitting in front of his last meal. He’d been waiting six years to be executed. And he’d been fighting the understanding that would reconcile dying dishonorably after having climbed just two of the four hills of life. His soul had been crying out to Spirit for redemption, but his mind had refused it, had only blindly agonized over the disgrace that he would bring to his people, the shame he would feel when he faced the Creator.
At this moment, though, he looked down at the food in front of him, the white potatoes, the red beets, and redemption came at him hard. He realized that he had never honored the life of the creature he had killed. He’d never honored it because he hadn’t known what it was, and the flurry of happenings in and around the killing incident were so surreal and such an utter shock to him that he’d had to shut down to survive. He would’ve gone insane, otherwise.
Now he had just minutes to prepare himself, to take on the likeness of the creature he’d killed and consecrate himself before the Creator. He worked fast, his fingers deftly applying the stain of the beets to his nose and around his lips. He mashed a couple of blueberries and made a diamond shape over the center of each eye socket. He smeared butter on the rest of his face and pressed slightly wetted mashed potatoes into the butter.
He stood up in the tiny cell, faced east and stretched his arms above his head then around in a scooping motion, bringing his hands in to his heart and then back out. He knew he had only a second or two more before the guard outside his cell would call more guards in to put a stop to this. So he took in a monstrous lungful of air and danced quickly in place bending forward, then back, chanting softly, soulfully, in his native tongue.
Four guards rushed the cell and were all over Johnny. All of them were incensed on seeing his face. They yelled at him with hate in their voices as they slammed him against the bars and restrained him. Then the angriest guard among them positioned himself in front of Johnny, just a few inches from his face, looked directly into his eyes, and growled in a low voice through gritted teeth, “To mock the man you killed like this is the most despicable act I have ever seen. May you burn in hell!”
Johnny felt badly for the angriest guard, but he was no longer disillusioned about how deep and unhealed the age-old chasm of misunderstanding is between the two peoples. He’d be dead in a few minutes at their hands. He’d be pumped full of chemicals that would collapse his lungs and stop his heart forever. And he thought it would be a sad thing if the angriest guard felt as gratified by that ritual as he’d felt in receiving from his ritual the solace that his soul had been crying out for and the honor that his people deserved.
“War Horse of Babylon” art from http://endicottstudio.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/04/23/war_horse_in_babylon_2005.jpg
Eastern Shoshone tribe logo from http://navajocreation.com/EasternShonoeeal.gif.
The above was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#121 – solace.” Click here for more on prompt #121 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.
My, my, you’ve been bringing your spirits down out of the old quiet places. It’s a long way from the daymare of coked-out Ms Amy W to Johnny Whitehorse, though, size of victim notwithstanding, it begs the possibility that Ms AW is precisely who Johnny sent on to her Creator. I know, the angriest guard refers to “the man,” but Johnny’s victim is more demonic being than actual human, a cipher of what’s at the far end of the chasm. I like the sweetness with which you plumb that chasm as Johnny experiences it, and the way you keep all the referents in his consciousness: we see the world through his eyes and not through the diamond-stained demon’s: but then, that’s Johnny’s tragedy, too.
I thought of Leonard Peltier, the glimpse of his spirit you get in John Trudell’s character in Thunderheart (in John Trudell himself, for that matter), the Warrior who faces his predicament as part of, not separate from, his Journey.
Molto bene, Miss Alister.
“War Horse of Babylon”: clearly, wonderfully, Guernica’s cousin.
wondered where you were! — this piece is grrrreat – as are they all — it had an enchantment about it, read like a aesop fable with a moral written in for an ending — the whole piece written simply giving it a sort of matter of fact tone, very very skillful, miss a! – poor johnny, one of those naive hearts afraid of a clown (could easily have been a hooker, too, when i think about it) – great ending with that moral worded cleverly like a corrolary — way good!!! — wonderful pic, tremendous compliment to the writing — what more can i say???
Oh you’ve been entering new frontiers lately, haven’t you? Getting more into the tribal, the folksonomies, the traditions…it’s very interesting!
And a what a true conclusion!
I didn’t see that one coming, and now I can’t forget it. The image of an Indian in clown paint in stead of war paint is disturbingly pathetic. I once saw a realistic painting of a clown crucified on The Cross! This is like a literary version of that. … sort of ?