Submission Guidelines: Send unpublished poems in the body of an email (NO ATTACHMENTS) to nvneditor[at] No simultaneous submissions. Use "Verse News Submission" as the subject line. Send a brief bio. No payment. Authors retain all rights after 1st-time appearance here. Scroll down the right sidebar for the fine print.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


by Peg Quinn

“On Monday, May 9, 2016, President Obama signed into law the National Bison Legacy Act, which designates the bison as the official mammal of the United States. . . . Lobbying for the official mammal designation was a coalition of conservationists; ranchers, for whom bison are business; and tribal groups, such as the InterTribal Buffalo Council, which wants to ‘restore bison to Indian nations in a manner that is compatible with their spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices.’ . . . Before the mid-1800s, bison (also called buffalo) lived mostly in the Great Plains, but were also found throughout the continent. . . . The U.S. Army led a campaign to wipe out bison as a way to control [native] tribes. . . . Columbus Delano, secretary of the interior, wrote in 1873: ‘I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western plains, in its effect upon the Indians.’ —Elahe Izadi, The Washington Post, May 9, 2016.  Image: A colored-pencil drawing by Peg Quinn of a bison’s head.

A bison's bladder holds seven pounds,
about one gallon, enough
for indigenous people to use
for storing water, clothing,
or food when hunting

Horns sufficed as drinking cups,
or carrying hot ash from one fire
to start the next

Fur became blankets,
papoose and moccasin lining

Skin became saddles, or, when
stretched over low lying branches,
sewn to form teepees, clothing,
quivers, drum heads and ‘canvas’
for recording the year in pictures - their
‘winter count’ during freezing blizzards

String was pulled from sinew
then threaded into carved bone needles

This is no metaphor:
drumming sticks were made
by dropping a round rock into
a testicle then wrapping with tendons
to the end of a stick

Sinew binding teeth and hooves
made door rattles outside the teepee
for announcing a visitor

Bones were carved into knives,
scraping tools, and toys while
tails had second lives swatting flies

Eyes, brains, tongues and organs
were reserved as treats for tribal elders,
meat, berries and fish the daily diet
Snacks were made from intestines
packed with dried herbs and jerky

Though no one knows how they used the nose,
it’s no wonder they were worshipped

Peg Quinn grew up in a rural area outside Lincoln, Nebraska. As a child, she once got her head stuck between the tail and rear-end of a life-size buffalo statue in a public park. Today, she teaches art and paints theatrical sets in southern California, always wearing a bison ring made from an Indian head nickel and morns how they were slaughtered as a means of controlling indigenous people. Her Great-Grandmother was Sioux.