“Listen: I Have Long Kept Silent” by Stacy Thieszen


1. The last two horses died in their traces and we left the wagon behind.

2. Walking with slow weary steps through grasses high as our throats, searching for water.

3. The wind flapping our clothing as it shakes the leaves of aspens so they show their white bellies.

4. This was a land of few trees, unreliable water, great heat, gold-green grasses without end.

5. The land of grass became a land of blood.

6.  Your mission is to listen, or not.

7.  Our mission is to thrive.

8.  After so many years, I speak because I see the past circling by my window, because I believe you will understand.

9.  This time is not so different from that time, the land, the hunger, the mission of our people.

10.  The herds of monstrous, untenable beasts we have called buffalo.

11. A woman, this woman, myself, I can swim through grass as fish swim through water and I swam until I could swim no more and this became our home, my husband and I as alone as if capsized on any desert isle.

12. Except for the savages.


1. I have held the truth in my belly these many years.

2. Your mission is to hear the truth this time. You may choose to listen or you may hum and look away.

3. The wind and successive disasters which left my husband and myself the only survivors had driven us far from the trail; we could expect no rescue.

4. We marked the days by scratching in the dirt, and the wind erased our timekeeping.

5. The buffalo had shoulders like mountains, eyes like stones.

6. We prevailed because we believed it would be so.

7. We learned that the flesh of the savage is good.

8. Our mission is to grow and prosper.

9. Our mission is to clear the land of darkness.

10. My eyes never became accustomed to the red rush of blood, my hands to the feel of the skin parting from flesh, sucking and then ripping free.


1. When it finally rained, I lay on flattened grass and let the water wash my skin, my great shining wheel of hair.

2. You have heard stories of savage and settler, but it was not then as you have now heard, not here.

3. My husband and I ate a nation.

4. By the Grace of God. How else could two kill two-thousand?

5. This homestead is a testament to the gun and the keen blue eye.

6. I have held my tongue all these years.

7. Your mission is to listen to what was hidden.

8. We ate the meat of their bodies, made supple clothes of their skin, wove blankets of their long, dark hair, used their bones as tools and crushed them into mortar.

9. Between you and me is the difference of an hour or a year or a hundred miles, no more.


1. Our mission is to build sturdy and pleasant houses that keep out the bats and snakes and haunting insinuation of the wind.

2. I only followed my husband’s will. I could make that claim.

3. After more than ten years, the faces of civilization caught up with us.

4. My husband emphasized our industry, the neat rows of corn and potatoes, the clean and sturdy house. The absence of savages.

5. The truth was right before their eyes, but their mouths said buffalo skins, bones of buffalo—how amazing!

6. Did they not see how fine my shoes were, how soft?

7. From then on we had to hunt rabbit, deer and buffalo with our new neighbors, slicing open those alien four-legged bodies, roasting that exotic meat.

8. Our mission is to triumph over those unlike ourselves.

9. Still, our mission is to feed upon the savages to build a stronger country.

10.  This prairie is an ocean where I’ve had to learn to swim.

11. It was not at first my idea or desire.



Stacy Thieszen‘s short stories have appeared in the anthology Blink, Clackamas Literary Review, South Dakota Review, and other small journals. She has completed two novels, one of which was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize last year. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and son and works as a writer for a large nonprofit organization.