“Christmas Comes to Moccasin Flat” was first published in Poetry Northwest in Spring 1967.
Christmas comes like this: Wise men
unhurried, candles bought on credit (poor price
for calves), warriors face down in wine sleep.
Winds cheat to pull heat from smoke.
Friends sit in chinked cabins, stare out
plastic windows and wait for commodities.
Charlie Blackbird, twenty miles from church
and bar, stabs his fire with flint.
When drunks drain radiators for love
or need, chiefs eat snow and talk of change,
an urge to laugh pounding in their ribs.
Elk play games in high country.
Medicine Woman, clay pipe and twist tobacco,
calls each blizzard by name and predicts
five o’clock by spitting at her television.
Children lean into her breath to beg a story.
Something about honor and passion,
warriors back with meat and song,
a peculiar evening star, quick vision of birth.
Blackbird feeds his fire. Outside, a quick thirty below.
James Welch (1940-2003) was born in Montana to a Blackfoot father and Gros Ventre mother. A former student of Richard Hugo at the University of Montana, Welch published over a dozen novels and collections of poetry, as well as the history Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians.
Cover photo by Hunter Wiseley