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Morality Play

My Tso, My Great-Grandmother announced

“There’s something about us you need to know”

My grandfather, my Toko, drove staring straight ahead

His jaw jumping

“Some people say not to talk about it,

That it’s too terrible

But you need to know,”

My grandmother, My Kaku, in the front seat

Closed her eyes and ducked her head til it was between her knees

Then she started to hum softly to herself

We were all brought up never to name the dead directly

The old way was to burn their belongings

I grew up on warning stories of ghosts returning to retrieve possessions

Greedy or forgetful relatives had neglected to destroy

Not far off imaginary tv spookums or some distant unknown victim

But real living people I knew, who had been chastised by their dead relations

Which made what my Tso said next unbearable

Too big and too awful

To fit inside a human brain

This is why

“This is why when we ride through this part of the mountains

Your Kaku holds her hand over your eyes

This place over here

This hollow on the south side of the road

That’s where the soldiers brought the wagons,”

What wagons?

“The wagons full of bodies- There used to be a lot more Comanches,”

She said, the words heavy like bad food in the pit of my stomach

“The white people were afraid

This is where they buried the Indins when the other place was full,”

What other place?

“The other place, now be quiet for a little bit,”

Highway 49 twisted, the way it does, through the Wichita Mountains

Past Medicine Park

Past Elgin

Met Up with I44, who curled around Ft. Sill

“This is where it started,”

She, The Mighty She, the one with raw nerve to talk about the end of the world, said

“The first ones that died were buried here

Those First Ones had graves stones

There were twins from our family, not babies but little

Not tiny babies, anyway

Then there were too many for gravestones,

Or graves

So the army had the soldiers dig a long trench

And they stacked the bodies like cordwood until the trench was full”

They just threw them in there? Just like that?

“No,” she said “Their folks wrapped them up in hide…like a …like winding sheet

If they had any folks

There were a lot of people with nobody left

Whole families wiped out…just gone,”

But where are the stones?

You said the first ones had gravestones

“They knocked them down when they built the airfield, a couple years later,”

Who knocked them down?

“The Army,” she said “And then they covered them with dirt.”

Not far down the road is the Ramada Inn

“Over here is where they handed out the blankets

There were wagons load full up with blankets

There used to be a lot more Comanches

But they were afraid of us.”

The death of one person is a cause for grief

The deaths of thousands is dumbfounding

My uncle the city cop

Used to say the whole neighborhood around there was hinky

Or Cursed

Or Haunted

Or just plain bad

Or all those things at once

Children went missing

And adults went out of their heads

When the Army sent my Toko to Germany

My Tso refused her small pox vaccine

“I’ve had it.” She said

The doctor called her “Auntie” and treated her like a crazy old Indian Lady

But when she pulled down her thick black stockings to show him the many petalled scars

He invited every doctor in the building to come take a look

Later in Der Fatherland

When some wiseacre local gave the family a lamp

She ordered my grandfather to get rid of it, right away

My Tso knew human skin when she saw it


Through the years

I would whisper what I knew to another Comanche

And the answer was always the same

“We aren’t supposed to talk about that,”

Beside the Airfield

The Army built a playground and new housing development

The Construction crew had a good time playing with the skulls they found

All except the two Comanches

Who up and quit

Though the private contractor said they had been fired

And made up the story of the skulls

As sour grapes

But it was too late

Everyone who knew the history

All the Comanches whose grandmothers and great grandmothers said

“You need to know this about us,”

Sat up in unison and rubbed the sleep from their eyes

An old man in his 80s, too old and infirm to give a damn about being arrested

Trespassed on the airfield

And uncovered half a dozen tombstones with his own gnarled hands

Trying to sound casual

I asked a Military Historian who used to teach tactics at the Army War College

Did he know anything about the Army handing out small pox blankets here at Lawton?

His smile of recognition was mild but genuine

Oh sure, he taught a lesson on that every year

Then he leaned in conspiratorially

He had even seen the receipts

The receipts? What kind of receipts?

“For the blankets, of course,

I was actually looking through Army archives for something else,

When I chanced onto them”

My expression must have been stupid because he explained

“The Army is a bureaucracy, first and foremost,

They had to have receipts for the blankets they gave to the Comanches

Because they had to buy the small pox hospital blankets to replace them.

I’ve seen the receipts,” The Historian said cheerfully

For all my poorly disguised horror in the conversation it was encouraging

It gets so tiring having the same frustrated dialogue

Over and Over

“I’ve lived in Oklahoma all my life and I never heard about anything like that,”

“That wasn’t in my Oklahoma history book,”

“I grew up around Indins and I think it’s B.S.”

They’ll tell you how the cow ate the cabbage

Life back then was one big episode of Little House on the Prairie

There might have been afew bad apples among the white people

But that’s all they were

Why their whole dang family has been nothing but a friend to The Red Man

Why they might even be a little Indin themselves

Probably more Indian than me

Either way, their ancestors were all brave and true

And earned everything they had

And I was slandering the dead by making up lies

About genocide

The land was wild and empty when they came

And some people are never satisfied

And we even have an Indian ontop of the capitol building

And seven years after the housing development was started

The Army still won’t allow the markers to be uncovered

Base commander after base commander puts his foot down

And in every meeting I clench my jaw

And say, the ground penetrating radar study to set the boundaries of the gravesites

Is not negotiable

How many did they do in Iraq?

First the Army says it’s too expensive

Then the Tribe offered to pay for it

We have archeologists well versed in the use of the machinery

And interpretation of the data

The Army counters while they don’t have the room in their budget for the radar study

They won’t trust the conclusion of any study funded by the Comanches

Meanwhile the donkeys who pulled the early guns at Ft. Sill

Have a beautifully maintained cemetery on the base

Complete with marble monuments

And in small town Oklahoma

The school sells “spirit ribbons” with silk screened pictures of Natives being burnt alive

The Principal says “Some people just want to be offended”

Some people can’t let anything go

What people?

Brown people

The uppity kind

That’s why we never accomplish anything

I hear

Because we live in the past

I mean in addition to being naturally stupid and lazy

And don’t forget drunk

Some folks say they’ve lived around Indins their whole lives

And yet it looks to me they’ve done it without ever managing to notice us

We’re like cattle lowing in the distance

I get the feeling they keep us around for atmospheric effect

Like landscaping

Or set design in their Bucolic Western Morality Play

About the value of hard work and old fashioned values

A play where Comanches shouldn’t expect a speaking part

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