Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks

Medicine Stone



This stone I picked at a medicine dance
on a cold June day near Wounded Knee.

In my bare feet, I carried this stone
into the circle of those with need.

A sun dancer danced in front of me,
and touched my shoulder with a sprig of sage.

A sun dancer chanted in front of me
and blessed me with his medicine pipe.

Here in the city, the sky is brilliant.
I carry this stone in a buckskin pouch.

Here in the city, we suffer in private.
Each of us stands at the circle alone.

This stone is an aspect of soul that lasts.
This stone is a remnant of no account.

Here in the hospital, coyote is dead.
This small stone is of no account.

Wolves, spiders, moles, snakes, ants are dead.
This spherical stone is of no account.

Eagles, hummingbirds, ravens, bats are dead.
This stone is a remnant of no account.

Only the voices of suffering live,
the skin, and what happens beneath the skin.

Still, I carry this buckskin pouch
and a small stone wrapped in a wad of sage.

This stone is an aspect of soul that lasts.
I call it my friend, my black stone friend.

Poet’s Commentary:

“This poem is about a sun dance, a healing ceremony, among the Oglala Sioux that took place one summer. And I happened to be there in Pine Ridge, South Dakota and I was an observer at the dance, but at one point the medicine man invited myself, and others, anyone who need to be healed, to come and join in the medicine circle. And this poem is a reflection of that, perhaps a reflection through the lens of a teaching hospital in the city. It’s called, ‘Medicine Stone.”

*Reproduced with the permission of Jack Coulehan and with special permission of Nightshade Press: The Knitted Glove, 1991.

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