by R.T. Smith

It was in the Moon When the Cherries Turn Black.

We cut birch saplings,

packed our tipis on travois

and followed the Bison Wind to the banks of the Rosebud.

But that was not a good year.

The Arapahoes we called Blue Clouds

attacked our hunting parties under the Bitten Moon,

and the leaves fled early.

In that hungry winter some say the snow reached

the ponies’ withers. The elk were hard

to find, and many of our people forgot

to slit bone masks and went snowblind.

Some of the bands got lost for a while. Some died.

I think it was that winter when a medicine man

named Creeping came among us, curing

the snowblinds. He packed snow across their eyes

and sang the song from his dream.

Then he would blow on the backs of their heads

and sing hey hey hey hey, and they would see.

It was about the dragonfly

whose wings wear eyes that he sang,

for that was where he claimed his power lay.

We also spoke to the snow of dragonflies,

and soon the deep patches melted

and the hunters brought us fresh meat.

Creeping left one night on a pony drag.

Some say he was a man of much craziness,

and I thought so too, but the next summer

I had my vision of giants slanting down like arrows

from clouds. They sang the song of the elk

speaking with the sacred voice.

The next year was the good year.

A song was singing me. 


“What Black Elk Said” is found in SPLIT THE LARK: Selected Poems by R. T. Smith, available on

 Image: “Dragonflies Moon” by Borealnz, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED