Arthur Chips: Carrier of Songs

Published as a narrative poem in The Eloquent Umbrella, 2000.


“Name’s Arthur Chips.[break]Singer,[break]out ‘a Horn Chips line.

Horn Chips,[break]y’ know,[break]doctoring man for Crazy Horse?[break]Tashunke Witko.

Now it’s me witko -[break]witkoko, crazy-crazy,[break]out ‘n a blizzard bad as ‘49.

Pilamaye, thanks[break]for stoppin’ your pickup for an old wino[break]in the ditch.

Ey, you’re her[break]as jus’ married my cousin Richard,[break]ennit?

Hear you don’t have nothin’ to do with firewater,[break]not like your ol’ man,[break]hear you even throwed ’im in jail –[break]twice.

Hear you don’t have nothin’ to do with drunks,[break]don’t allow ‘em near the sundance grounds[break]out in the country.

Hear you drive ‘em away with a broom –[break]not a rifle,[break]a broom!

I was gonna stop by jus’ to see that broom,[break]steal your ol’ man off to Norris bar with me,[break]he always got dough.

But now you took pity of me,[break]haulin’ me home from them Saturday night[break]cowboy drunks an’ savin’ my frostbit hands,[break]I’ll be out to take sweat with ‘im[break] instead.

“I remember, y’ know.[break]I remember all them old songs,[break]sing the old language,[break]way my grandpa taught.

I’m drunk,[break]but I still sing them holy songs,[break]way I done when I was Lowanpo,[break]Ceremony Singer.

No night meetings no more,[break]way back in the hills, secret–[break]
not legal,[break]accordin’ to the Boss-Indian-Around-Agent –[break]but people was dyin’,[break]so my grandpa doctored ’em anyways,[break]an’ I sang for ‘im.

Ceremony house roof all cave in[break]long ago.[break]All gone.

Gone now,[break]like my grandpa.[break]All gone[break]but them songs.

So I sing ‘em in ditches,[break]sing to the long grass under the snow,[break]sing outside Kadoka on them cold winter nights,[break]on this road back to the res,[break]prayin’ for an Indian car,[break]maybe with a heater for a thawin’ out ride.

So I drink lotsa wine,[break]lotsa sterno,[break]lotsa lysol,[break]drown my ghosts,[break]rot out my throat,[break]still, I sing.

Tun-ka-shi-la, un-shi-ma-la-pe-lo,[break]Creator, take pity on us.

“Prob’ly thinkin’,[break]better not sing them holy songs[break]drunk.

Don’t want your pickup cab stunk up[break]with no wino voices.

But they fill my head,[break]buzz ‘round like ghosts,[break]till I go crazy swattin’ ‘em,[break]wanaghi in my head.

So I hafta sing them songs,[break]all through the Badlands full of ghosts,[break]or I lose them songs,[break]like I lose the reins to my horse,[break]my Crazy Horse.

And if I don’t sing ’em,[break]I hafta talk to you,[break]an’ I got nothin’ to say.

You a high-taught White lady,[break]an’ I don’t speak English so good,[break]never went to no school,[break]my grandpa hide me away[break]from them Black Robes an’ books,[break]no good for a Singer,[break]rot out my mind.

Anyways, marryin’ my cousin[break]make you hankashi, too close a relation,[break]so I put them songs between you an’ me[break]on the pickup seat,[break]old-fashion way, respectful[break]of how you pick me up out ‘a the cold.

I keep a-singin’ to keep myself warm,[break]a-singin’ to keep the driver awake,[break]a-singin’ to keep this high-center pickup[break]from sliding off into Redstone Basin[break]where them seven missionaries got killed.

Ko-la, le-che-e-le-chu…[break]Ey, you know it!

Your ol’ man brag you up,[break]say you got a good voice,[break]learn them songs from watchin’[break]his sweat lodge door,[break]but he laugh,[break]say you sing like a man,[break]use man Lakota words,[break]don’t speak Lakota so good,[break]ha-ha!

So I gonna give you a woman song,[break]a Crazy Horse woman song[break]your ol’ man don’t know.

Unchi — my grandma dead,[break]Ina — my mama dead,[break]ain’t got nobody left to carry it.

We gonna sing it good,[break]so when we get out ‘a the Badlands[break]an’ you drop me off,[break]you carry it home[break]an’ surprise ’im[break]singin’.”

Dedicated to the memory of Arthur Chips.

[There are no Crazy Horse women songs, but for miles, mine was the only running pickup.]

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