Dance on the Old Ground by Nels Hanson

After we were released from the Lakeview Jail—
I was a material witness who couldn’t swim deep
enough to reach a heartsick lover searching for
her son, and Charles Two Hats was disorderly,

angry the world wouldn’t wake up—we drank
only creek water from a hide canteen. Charles
led me into the mountains to a place called
the “Old Ground” and showed me how to wash

and purify myself with new snow, mark my face
with stripes of berry juice, charcoal and ashes.
We smoked coltsfoot and chewed mint leaves
and he lifted onto my shoulders the heavy elk

robe I’d carried folded in the rawhide pack.
On my head he set the badger helmet sprouting
forked antlers and tied the leather thong firmly
under my chin. Now he beat the deerskin drum
and I shook the buffalo horn that held teeth
of men killed at the Little Big Horn. Two Hats
didn’t say if they belonged to Indians or whites,
if molars of Custer or a brave of Crazy Horse’s

rattled in my hand. Sparks from the roaring pine
boughs we’d cut popped and twirled into the dark
beyond the tops of the trees, toward the Great Bear
and Orion, the Seven Sisters or Pleiades and other

cold clear northern stars and constellations. Down
the long slope, fathomless Sleeping Child Lake lay
in a cottony mist, milky green with the full moon
and Charles said the lost nations were alive, their

spirits’ emerald fires lit the water from below.
Together we made a burnt offering for the dead,
then danced and sang a prayer to let the Old
People know that a new soul was arriving tired

and hungry from her journey to the green river
under the lake and ask them to wait with gifts
of food and water. We sang a song for the living
and departed, for those who had found Mother

of Water Lands, the secret valley, and the Sleeping
Child and those like Emma Little Bear who were
looking for him, sure the boy who dreams of what
we do and weeps and doesn’t wake is their own.


Nels Hanson has worked as a farmer, teacher and contract writer/editor. His stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Texas Review, Black Warrior Review, Southeast Review, Montreal Review, and other journals, and  stories were nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2010 and 2012. Poems have appeared in Poetry  Porch, Atticus Review, Red Booth Review, Meadowlands Review, Emerge Literary Review,  Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine,  and other magazines, and are in press at Oklahoma Review, Paradise Review, Hoot & Hare Review, Citron Review, and Poetry Porch.