A City of Bison
by Robert Kloss
And now your father sat in the glow of the fires he built and told you of the bison stampede of his boyhood, and from within clouds of dust came the tirade of a thousand, thousand horns and hooves. And churches and general stores came to rubble and everywhere the shatter of stained glass glinted and everywhere the tins of meats, of peaches, spilled open and spoiled. And the flesh of man and child lay twisted in glass and planks of wood. And your father and his mother lay beneath the dining room table while everywhere along the floor, remnants of china and tin types and vases shattered and wild flowers shaken to petals.
Remember your father sat in the light of the fires he built, before the gravestones of your mother and of your younger brother, of Walter, and he said “Ruin follows everywhere in my wake” and when you said nothing he mumbled “No, no. It is so.”
And those bison grazed the lawns and devoured home gardens, these thousand, thousand bison shifting and devouring as one. Remember how your father’s father found him cowering beneath the table and he said unto your father “Get out from under there, young whelp” and remember how your father’s father brought him to the rooftop while the bison milled and mooed along the neighborhoods. Remember how your father gagged for the stink of these. Remember the skies filled black for flies clouded. Remember they seemed an ocean of muscle and fur and horns and hooves, an ocean entire of snorting monsters, of tufts, of weird mooing. Remember how men such as your grandfather sat on rooftops firing shotguns into the living mass and the death cries of bison mingled with the sounds of their eating. Remember how a bison would fall and there seemed another in its place. Remember the trampling of hooves when they wearied of devouring your land. Remember how these bison stampeded across the bodies of those bison fallen. Remember along those streets and avenues, eyes and tongues distended and the flies that gathered unto this obliterated meat and how your father’s father said unto him, “Hurry now whelp with that shovel and wheelbarrow. We shall have steak tonight.”
And your father said, “Each night my dreams are filled with the thunder of hooves. Each night your grandmother and the stain of her tears upon my clothing. Each night my school chums trampled in the streets and the houses of those I knew ground to dust and splinters. Each night, within my dreams, I weep the way I wept back then.”
And your father’s father fed his family the black tongue of bison and called it “sirloin” and he himself devoured the rib meat of these animals and called it “tongue.” And he said unto your father, “You would not appreciate this flesh. It would disgust you.”
And your father stood in the glare of his fires, and he said, “Oh Walter, oh my boy, oh where are you now?” while his hair burned to ash, while his skin molted, and he wrapped his arms about your mother’s stone, and he moaned, and he finally said to you, “If she weren’t gone already, I would kill her.”
And your father crouched upon the rooftop with his father and how he knew his town had become a town of bison, a town of mooing and flies, a town of fur and horns. Remember how your father thought, “We could rebuild our city with all these bison” and in his mind your father saw a city constructed with this woolen timber, a city of churches built with hooves and horns, of general stores constructed with fur and meat, floors of ribs and legs, of streets paved with skulls and teeth, and the stuff would drip and the flies would gather, and how he knew, even as a boy, such timber was not sturdy, and how soon these buildings would decay and collapse, and how soon these buildings would be devoured by gulls, and overhead even then, your father knew the white circling, the mindless shrieking of birds.
And how silent your father was in the glow of the fires he built, until he said, “Maybe I dreamed them,” without saying who he meant, and he said, “Maybe they only happened in here” and your father touched his skull with an absent gesture.
When my father was a boy his father would feed he and his brothers liverwurst and call it "steak" while this man, my father's father, would eat a nice steak and call it "liverwurst." While feasting he would say to his sons "My boys, you are lucky you don't have to eat this liverwurst like your poor father does." My father told me this story while we stood before his father's gravestone. It is the only thing he ever told me about my grandfather.