An Old Indian Remembers

By George Sterling

Was it eternal youth they sought—
  Those bearded strangers from the east?
Was it perhaps for gold they fought
  The snake, the arrow, and the beast?

(It was my grandsire told the tale,
  As, where the Little River glides,
We heard the wind of autumn wail
  And shake our smoky hut of hides.)

"They came with thunder in their hands,
  For which we feared, and took them in,
So weary of the rainless sands,
  So strange of garb, so white of skin.

"A week they rested, slept and fed,
  Then searched the land with curious eyes.
Our vultures watched from overhead,
  Silent as were the silent skies.

"They found at last our hill of death,
  Lifeless and black below the day.
We watched, with softly-taken breath,
  Their journey on that ashen way.

"Far up the cindery pathway ran,
  Where stir, below the topmost crag,
The lizard on the obsidian,
  The vulture's shadow on the slag.

"They knew, our Holy Men, what stream
  Oozed, scarlet, from that haunted hill,
Where, once a year, they went to dream,
  When all the desert night lay still.

"From one scarred cliff those waters dripped
  (Now tell us: are they water?), then
Voiceless among the cinders slipped,
  And crept into the hill again.

"Not even our Holy Men may tell,
  What thing within the mountain's core
Has caught the desert in its spell,
  And bleeds, but shakes the land no more.

"But they, the strangers, may have found
  The secret. Up the fading track
A year we stared. There was no sound,
  And none of all that band came back .

"Not even our Holy Men revealed
  What thing was done. They watched the sky,
Where day by day the vultures wheeled,
  But dipped not down, and gave no cry."

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