Tomahawk Sal’s Complaint

Olive Oatman c. 1863

One of the projects I began working on last summer was a science fiction novel about an artist who works on stories in a Western genre. This framing device surrounds a sub plot which is an American Western retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The novel is in a rough an unedited state, but the following lyrics are from that sub-story. The character of Tomahawk Sal is a version of Innana, the Sumerian goddess of erotic love and death, cum Calamity Jane of Deadwood fame. She is also something of a witch. Sal’s lovelorn complaint for the attentions of the main character echo a similar episode from the Gilgamesh epic, and is voiced as a campfire song after being transmitted into the speech of the Enkidu character, known as Hard Luck. Tomahawk Sal is also a mélange of other mythic and liminal figures, including Baba Yaga, Hecate, and Olive Oatman, a frontier woman from Illinois, who was captured and raised by Apache Indians in the 1850s.

Love me in the haylofts
Above the cattle lowing,
Or love me off in golden fields
Before the reaper starts a-mowing.

        Your love is like a winter wind,
        Slinking in through gaping chinks.
        Your hearth is cold and ashen,
        A chain of broken links.

Will you not love me in the corn?
        No, the corn is green and sour.
Will you love me in the barley, then?
        Alas ’tis poor man’s flour

Will you love me where the wild goose flies?
        The cliff is perilous and steep.
Then love me where the jackdaw nests?
        Her voice is harsh and cheap.

Love me in the bell tower
While the pious mime their praying,
Or under mourning willow
With leaves so gently swaying.

        Your love is like a lightning fire,
        Running o’er droughted grass.
        Your love is hard and stinging,
        Like the drover’s flashing lash.

My love is true, my hair is silky,
My ankles white and dainty.

        My arm is strong my wisdom keen
        My spirit one third saintly.

My love is true, my fingers fine,
My plaints entreat thee “ruth.”

        Your hair is grey your face is lined
        I spurn your love for sooth.

Then curses I’ll heap upon you
Upon your sons and daughters:
May your lands be barren wastes
And brackish be your waters;

May your fence posts fall to splinters
Your bullets fall meek and harmless;
May your herds incline to wander
And your horses flee the harness;

May dogs snap at your heel spurs
And fortune always spurn you;
While ravens mock your daily toils
And haints be bound beside you.

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