THE BIRD WOMAN
After my eleventh winter
I was kidnapped by our enemies
and made to be their slave.
My people, the Shoshone, were in hiding
in the Shining Mountains
at the place where three rivers become one.
In times of war, we never left the camp unescorted.
That day the young brave Split Feather
watched over my cousin and me.
Split Feather kept lookout from atop his horse
while we two girls crouched by a creek
mashing pah-see-goo roots with a heavy stone.
We were filled with hope. Spring had arrived.
We would soon return to the plains to hunt the buffalo.
Soon there would be skins to cover our tepees.
Soon there would be meat to fill our stomachs.
I was yet a young girl, but a strong one.
Cousin was older and due to marry Split Feather soon.
They brought joy to each other
and their union was a blessing to our family.
Long ago my father had promised me to Sitting Hawk,
an important Shoshone scout.
I was to become his wife,
but not until I reached womanhood.
Despite our hunger, Cousin and I were always laughing.
That day was no different.
She held her basket, filled with roots, against her stomach.
"Look, Watches the Sky," she said, joking.
"I am pregnant with many small children."
Even serious Split Feather cracked a smile.
Suddenly we heard the sound of the hawk.
It was Sitting Hawk, at watch in the forest,
signaling to the tribe that the enemy was near.
Every bird ceased its singing.
My cousin and I fell silent too.
We were still as the trees.
Split Feather raised his head to listen-
the high whine of a flying arrow.
The thud of arrow hitting flesh, cracking bone.
Split Feather’s chest erupted in blood;
his eyes were wide; he died instantly.
The arrow passed through him as if
his body had been river mist.
Cousin ran across the water and vanished
into the woods at the far side of the creek.
I remained crouching by the stream.
Try as I might, I could not move.
Split Feather slumped onto his horse.
His eyes, open in death, watched me.
His body slid to the ground.
A Hidatsa warrior broke through the thicket.
He sat high atop a white horse.
In his left hand he held the rein.
In his right hand he held a long battle club.
He gestured with the club as if to say,
Now bow your head — you are mine.
Instead I stood.
I remembered the rock in my hand.
And I hurled it.
I managed to hit him between the eyes.
The warrior’s expression was fear and surprise.
But then he smiled.
Blood streamed down his painted face,
across his white teeth.
He licked it from his lips,
his grin turning red.
As if in a dream I turned, like a doe, to leap
as the warrior on the white horse raised his club
and, still smiling,
brought it down
against my head.
I’m a talker.
My mom always said George,
if you were a blackberry,
you could talk your way out of a hungry bear’s mouth.
So I came to Pittsburgh to stay with Uncle Will
while I went to school to study the law.
At least that’s what my mother thinks.
The past few weeks I’ve been working
as an apprentice at the Tarascon Brothers Shipyard.
My plan was to eventually hop on a ship
bound for the open ocean.
I figure I can always become a lawyer later
but for now I want to live a little,
see the world,
get my feet wet.
Anybody can become a lawyer.
I want to become something special.
I want to accomplish
something that no one else can top.
I want to read my story in the history books.
Not like my father.
He worked like a dog doing ordinary things
and then he up and died just like that.
Well, that’s not for me.
Now, today down at the Green Tree Tavern
the boys are all talking about this officer
come to town to have a keelboat built
to sail himself on an expedition of discovery
to explore certain secret stretches of our great country
that no other civilized man has yet seen.
Well, that sounds like the boat George Shannon has been waiting for.