local_library Custer Shoots His Horse

by Ray Nayler

Published in Issue No. 186 ~ November, 2012

Custer Shoots his Horse*


Here is General Custer:

A figure on foot

against the wild grass of the plains.

Gory with horse brains,

walking miles from the corpse

of his mount,

through whose head

he himself fired

the accidental bullet, after

breaking ranks to chase

a horizon of buffalo.


His canary moustaches are

crimsoned with gore.

A cloud of shining flies trails him.

His feet inside buckskin boots

are open wounds.


Bruised, lost, battered, yes.

Also laughing to himself,

his grin as white

as the century will allow.


Boy General,

Death is still for others.

And the sky is great above him, great

as war for him is great

as the grassland seeding burrs

into his boottops

is great.


He raises a gloved hand to his men,

who have found him undefeated

once again, found him

unashamed at his own folly.

Laughing at himself,

with yet another story for the campfire.

No tragedy, just yet:

In the Black Hills they will all

play baseball, bathe in creeks,

find gold and grizzly bears to pillage.


Only later will he lead them all

to slaughter.


Why can’t we have our wisdom

while our knees are young, America?

And our chariots returned unbent by war?




*(During his first campaign against the Cheyenne in 1867, General Custer galloped off after a herd of buffalo, aimed his revolver — and shot his own horse through the head. On foot, bruised and totally lost, he had to be rescued by his own men.)

account_box More About

Ray Nayler is a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, posted to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Over the past decade, he has lived and worked in Moscow, many of the Central Asian republics, and in Afghanistan. Ray has work upcoming in the Beloit Poetry Journal and in Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics.