IN THE RANDOM HOUSE
It’s warm in my house, overwarm even.
That makes me remember the raw day we visited the Wilson Ranch.
The Wilson Ranch is where Wovoka lived in Nevada
as a boy, under the Christian name Jack Wilson.
It was so generous warm in the sitting room I commented on it.
“The ranch is always warm,” said the lady of the house.
“I attribute that to Wovoka having lived here.”
Jack Wilson had lived at the ranch more than one hundred years before,
a long time to keep a place warm.
From there he proved out to be Wovoka, a great medicine man, a rain maker,
a bit of a trickster wearing a big hat until struck by a dream
that made believers call him the Messiah.
People came from all over to his part of Nevada to see him,
even me, eventually. They brought back his prayer dance to where
the soldiers gunned down his dreamers at Wounded Knee,
false-gold soldiers scared by a dream
that joined the Native and the Christian soul so beautifully.
They couldn’t tell it was a miraculous dream rather than a war dream.
Twenty of the soldier-butchers won the Medal of Honor.
The buffalo have come back, I have seen them,
he didn’t misdream that. His ghost dance
may be used again, some day. The great flood Wovoka saw,
to carry off the base invaders, to bring back the ancestors,
could happen any year now, with the climate change.
Maybe we should dance to ward it off,
feet bloody in the snow until we fall down spent.
Maybe that devotion would save the world we have,
that is on the point of ending as surely as the one the Indians knew.
I think we should; I think we should pray.
I should like to see my mother again. I should like to see my father.
They say if you looked inside Wovoka’s hat,
you could see the entire universe.
I don’t think he was bogus,
though he might have seeded the trees with ice
before he made the rain fall.
I can say I will call a white horse
down from the mountain, as he did,
but I don’t know if one will come, as one came to him.
I have felt his warmth one hundred years later,
a miracle if you like, and I take my hat off to him.
White horse, white horse. That
was a powerful dream, a warm dream for a cold day,
a dream that would make us all one people.
It is sleepy warm in my house this morning.
But that’s from the radiators, not me.
Maybe God is a magic God, a trickster God,
who zaps us with dreams so vivid
we rise into the air and know our true purpose. Maybe he likes
white horses and the warmth
of an oasis in the Nevada desert.
Maybe creation is only clear when we dance.
Maybe the old people do come back, and see through our eyes.
The Paiute medicine man Wovoka (ca. 1856-1932) had an apocalyptic vision in Nevada around New Year’s Day, 1889, inspiring the Ghost Dance religion which spread rapidly through the indigenous tribes of the West until its Lakota adherents were gunned down in the Wounded Knee, SD massacre of Dec. 29, 1890. The frenzied devotional dancing of the Indians made authorities believe they were planning an outbreak of hostilities. Wovoka (the name means “cutter” or “woodcutter” in Paiute), was also called by his Christian name, Jack Wilson, and was often referred to as the Paiute Messiah because he believed the proper performance of the Ghost Dance would resurrect the ancestors of the Native peoples. He is remembered by modern Paiute as a transformational holy man, and the Ghost Dance remains one of the most powerful manifestations of religious spirit ever seen on this continent. I once had the honor of hearing his granddaughter sing songs Wovoka taught her when she was a little girl.
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