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Ten Stories
by W.J. Sundermeyer


Leaning on one elbow, smoke from his pipe floating around
his face and mingling with ermine-wrapped braids, Sitting
Bull asks his eager pupil, "Where is the Buddha nature?"

"The Buddha nature is elusive like the prairie dog. Always
darting about, visible only to the quiet and most patient
warrior," his pupil answers.

"Good," Sitting Bull replies, squinting into the haze. "Do the
wasichu have the Buddha nature? If you answer 'no' I will
strike you 100 times."

"A frozen pond in winter," says the pupil, "talks to the sky in
cracks and moans."

The sage draws on his pipe and exhales the smoke through
his nose.


I have read your curriculum vitae and I know that you have a
very impressive background. Your work with Dr. Brown at
Texas A&M regarding the fracture response of limestone to
supersonic stressors remains a seminal work. But I am
wondering what you have been doing with yourself for the past
six months. It seems that Dr. Brown lost touch with you in
April. Something about you calling in sick one day and never
returning? While your early academic career suggests that
you have a fine work ethic, this episode is troubling to us. Is
there an explanation you wish to offer? When we received your
curriculum vitae we were indeed excited to learn that your
talents were available and we are interested in your thoughts
on developments within our own department. But, again, we
are wondering about your state of mind. You appear, if you
don't mind my saying, somewhat disheveled. Do you think
yourself ready for the rigors of academic life? Of course we
are prepared to offer you a generous signing bonus and
annual salary, along with a room in one of our faculty
residence halls and a stipend to cover your expenses. All that
remains are a few questions and an explanation from you
regarding your appearance here after such a long and
mysterious absence.

There's a cracked tectonic plate of a sidewalk pushing up
from the ground and the sound of late afternoon locusts
jumping the gun as he appears on the dim stoop drinking

I waited on the sidewalk in front of the dime store, chewing on
a French peasant roll purchased from the bakery next to
Blooms Books. Earlier in the day, I also bought a root beer
and a Payday. I smoked a cigarette while I ate, a practice I
knew to be abhorrent, especially to the commuters who
passed. One haughty gentleman glanced my way, not
disdainful, but instead checking his hair in the window behind
me to review how his new glasses [small and rectangular
with blue lenses] lent credibility and a hint of roguishness to
his face.

I wonder over the cares that might be in your eyes if we

If I, looking up from my paper, might see brilliant sunlight
radiating in long brown shadows through tall grass and
cattails in road ditches filled with water. And I wonder about
the characters we might meet traveling overland by bus. I
wonder if the sound of my voice takes as long to settle in your
bones, rattling around in your chest like a big plastic cup in
the back floorboards, as yours does in mine.

"St. Vincent the Vituperative was a close confidant of Pope
Linus VIII. A willful man given to fits of rage so intense that
onlookers were known to be paralyzed with anxiety, St. Vincent
was strangled and disemboweled in 1222 by a jealous
protègè. He was a founding member of the Order of the
Sealed Cask and an amateur lepidopterist. St. Vincent is the
patron saint of butterfly and moth collectors and is attributed
with healing the chronic dyspepsia of several prominent
entomologists, including M. Lindsay Cuthbertson, discoverer
of the rare Guatemalan nitroglycerine moth (Danaus

"In my dream, I am at the river. I am getting water for my
husband and my children. I see a soldier in a blue woolen
uniform sitting on a pony on the opposite bank The pony and
the soldier's legs are flecked with foam. The pony's chest is
heaving and his nostrils are flared and roaring."

"You are not frightened," adds Sitting Bull.

"I am not frightened. I pray for the soldier. I begin to sing."

"And what does the soldier do when you sing?"

"He steps down from his horse and walks a few paces to the
river. He wades into the water. The current sucks at his chest.
I look into his eyes. He begins to shiver. His head slips below
the water and his hat floats away.

"I follow the path back along the river. When I turn toward the
village, I stop at a grove of aspens. In the sky above the trees I
see a great black whirlwind. Bodies fall out of the clouds onto
our lances. Ash covers the arms and faces of our warriors as
the soldiers and their ponies split and disintegrate."

The men at the bar call it Peach's rhythm-hunched over, two
feet and a cane beating on the sidewalk-an odd side-to-side
swagger that's part stumble and part dance.

"How's everybody?" he asks, raising a single finger and
nodding to Steve who waits behind crossed arms behind the

Peach hooks his cane on the back of the stool and sits down.

"I'm comin' in here today and damn if I don't have to take care
of some pony boy before I do. Some people just have no
damn manners.

"I'm standing at the light and this young lady walks
up. I give her a smile and turn back to my business which at
this particular moment happens to be waiting for the light to
change. Which it does.

"And me and this young lady start across the street. Me a little
faster than her, if you can believe it even with this thing cause
the young lady isn't exactly a breath of spring wind if you know
what I'm saying. I make it across and this smug bastard
sitting in a convertible at the light says something like 'Hurry
up, you fat bitch" or some smart-ass shit like that.

"So, me, I jump back into the street and rattle over to the car
on all three like a peg-legged rat on a baby chick. Next thing I
know the side door is open and this pony boy is standing in
front of me. Cars are honking. People are complaining from
their front seats. And I'm standing in front of this bastard
looking up into his nostril hair. He's wearing too much
cologne and a stupid t-shirt with a picture of some kid pissing.

"He starts in with some easy comment about me being a
gimp. I smile and turn my head. He adds something about
me and the young lady. I turn back. He tells me to mind my
business. I crack him with the cane. He goes down real nice. I
give him a shot to the kidneys and he stays down, rolling
around on the ground yelling about I broke his nose. The cars
keep honking, but the people quiet up a bit.

"By this time, the young lady's made it to the curb and I join
her. The light's already changed once. It changes again and
nobody moves for a few seconds. Then, a car takes off,
passing the guy on the ground, and the rest of them follow.

"The thing is, that smart-mouthed little sucker reminded me of
something. A blue jay is a bird that will eat other bird's eggs.
When I was a kid, I saw one of those vile creatures flopping
around in the yard with a baby bird in it's beak. I shot him. And
I shot a blue jay every day for about six months after that."


Harry Houdini once survived a fall from a twelfth story window,
not making a sound, but taking with him the couch, a couple
wicker end tables, and an ottoman.

The prairie hums.

Email: sdc@birch.net

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