Friday, October 31, 2008

Sonnet: Tattoo Tears

Sonnet: Tattoo Tears


No one will believe this story I'm telling, so it must be true.


It's true: the Indian woman with three tears tattooed under her
left eye folded under the weight of her own expectations, after
her real tears failed to convince. No disfigurement is small and
three tears leave you without choices, without hope or grace.
The Indian woman with three tears tattooed under her left eye
shot or stabbed her husband and went to prison for murder. In this,
I cannot find the slightest measure of music. My hands are empty
when I wave Hello, Old Friends to the cancellations of air, to
the inversion of possibilities, to the strange animals haunting
my dreams.


Strange animals haunt my dreams, animals formed wholly by other
animals chasing me through the gallop of my imagination. But
it wasn't Gallup streets I ran through, afraid, and it wasn't
Spokane or Seattle, and maybe I wasn't coming nearer to the
childhood I forgive most often when I lie in bed all day,
refusing to stand and leave the safety of inertia. Most often,
the animals have faces, familiar, like each was a cousin by
marriage or a promise of destruction, like my ancestor's had
chosen me for a twentieth century vision.


A twentieth century vision: my sister in San Francisco, early
70's, with a single tear tattooed under her right eye. She is
pregnant, her dreams protected by the cardboard box she carries
as defense. It's a small kind of medicine. Years later, I search
for her in the newsreels, the black-and-white photographs, the
glossary of a textbook, look for some definition of her


Disappear,child, like a coin in the hands of another reservation
magician. Disappear, mother, into a cable television memory, 40
channels of commercials selling the future. What was I thinking,
sending cash by mail. $ 19.95 for a knife that could cut concrete
and oranges into halves? Disappear, father, as you close your eyes
to sleep in the drive-in theater. What did you tell me? "Movies
are worthless! They're just sequels to my life." Disappear, brother,
into the changing river, salmontravelling beneath the uranium mine,
all of it measured now by half-lives and miles-between-dams.
Disappear, sister, like a paper cut, like a rock thrown through
a window, like a Fourth of July firework.


It's the Fourth of July and every Indian looks into the sky.
Tears explode from their eyes, louder, and brighter than a
bottle rocket. Tears lick their cheeks like a Jimi Hendrix
solo. Tears fall until they build a new bridge across the
Bering Strait. Tears fill up a chipped cup and Big Mom
makes it into instant coffee. Tears echo, tears confuse the
local weathermen, tears the size of golf balls, tears canned
and distributed by the BIA, tears pulled into a hypodermic and
mainlined. Tears sprayed onto a slice of white bread and eaten.
Tears tattooed under the eyes of Indians who belive everything
their mirrors whisper.


Whispering slowly, a pair of pany hose rolled over an ankle
sounds like a promise, like a memory fitted tightly over the
skin: my sister in the mirror braided her hair into wild ponies,
pulled the Goodwill panty hose over her legs and let me rub
my cheek against her calves while she waited for some Indian
boy or other. What did she used to say? Every weekend can be
a powwow if you know what kind of music to play.


What kind of music do you play when drums aren't enough?


The drums aren't loud enough, so the deaf fancydancer stands
strill, scratching at the tears tattooed under both his eyes.
Then, a beer truck roars by outside, shakes the earth like
a drum, and the deaf fancydancer two-steps to a horsepowered


The jukebox in the bar is horsepowered. The street lights
making shadows on the basketball court are horsepowered.
Seymour's new drum is diesel, gets great gas mileage but
stutters when it climbs hills. On the top of Wellpinit
Mountain, I watch for fires, listen to a radio powered
by the ghosts of 1,000 horses, shot by the United States
Cavalry a century ago, last week, yesterday. My cousins
paint red tears under their horse's eyes just before they
run at Playfair Race Track. Last I heard, my cousins are
still waiting for any of their horses to finish, to emerge
from the dust and gallop toward a new beginning.


If I begin this story with the last word, the last spark
of flame left from the trailer fire, will you remember
everything that came before? If I show you the photograph
of my sister just emerged from the sweat house, steam
rising from her body like horses, a single tear tattooed
under her right eye, can you pretend to miss her? If I
tell you her body was found in the ash, the soft edge of
the earth, will you believe she attempted escape but
couldn't lift her head from the pillow? If I show you
the photograph of my sister i her coffin, hair cut short
by the undertaker who never knew she called her hair
"Wild Ponies", will you imagine you loved her?


Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation.


The reservation waits for no one. Acre by acre, it roars
past history, forgiving and forgetting nothing. There are
moments here which can explain your whole life. For instance,
the beer can wedged between bars in the cattle guard predicts
the next car wreck, but it also sounds like an ocean of
betrayal if picked up and held to the ear.


Listen: truth is a strange animal haunting my dreams, my waking.
In the reservation Kmart, 40 televisions erupt in a 20th century
vision; 500 years of bad situation comedies. Measured by the
half hour, the Indian woman with three tears tattoed under her
left eye disappears into the scenery, into the crowd of another
Fourth of July celebration. The soundtrack of her life whispers
some kind of music, but it isn't drums because drums are never
enough. Can you hear canned laughter roaring out of her horse-
powered stereo on the shelf next to her life? What can I tell
you about the beginning of her story that would help you
imagine how much of the reservation she had tattooed across
her skin?

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows.



This is a poem for people who died in stupid ways.
This is a poem for Napoleon's great grandson who
snapped his neck when his ridiculously long scarf caught
in the rear wheels of the convertible he was driving.
This is a poem for General George Armstrong Custer.
This is a poem for all the Japanese gourmets who eat one of those
poisonous blowfish, which are considered a great delicacy, but
are lethal in even the smallest portions unless prepared
expertly by a chef who has trained for years. A blowfish steak
will make your lips numb, blur your vision, and ring your ears,
when it is prepared correctly. A poorly prepared blowfish
will stop your heart just like that. The dead, with their
stuffed, stopped hearts, are buried with expressions of
deep satisfaction.
This is a poem for all those who died with expressions of
deep satisfaction.
This is a poem for the skydivers who pulled the cord and heard the
deafening silence of a chute that would not open, then felt
the roar of the secondary chute as it fluttered uselessly
above them.
This is a poem for all the teenagers who wrote songs about teens
who failed to beat the train at the crossing and failed.
This is a poem for all the folksingers who wrote songs about teens
who failed to beat the train at the crossing.
This is a poem for the Brink's armored-car guard who was crushed
to death by $50,000 worth fo quarters. He was guarding a load
of twenty-five-pound coin boxes in the back of the truck
when the driver braked suddenly to avoid a car that had swerved
in front of him. When the driver pulled over to check on his
partner, he found him completely covered by coins.
This is a poem for all the hunger strikers of the world. When they
are close to death, I forget whey they were striking. I just
want to give them a glass of water and a slice of bread. After
they are gone, I feel motion sickness.
This is a poem for the men and women who ate themselves to death
with meals of such enormity (whole chickens, ten pounds of eggs,
gallons of milk, 27 apple pies) that their hearts
simply collapsed.
This is a poem for the cooks who prepared those enormous meals
and feel no guilt.
This is a poem for the cooks who prepared those enormous meals
and feel guilty.
This is a poem for smokers.
This is a poem for the poet who camped on Mount St.Helens's just
days before the mountain erupted, despite repeated warnings
from experts and psychics alike.
This is a poem for anybody who camps on active volcanoes. I am
the kind of man who makes rules for himself. Hence, I forbid
myself to become the kind of man who camps on active volcanoes.
Please feel free to adopt this rule for yourself.
This is a poem for the people who jump off the Golden Gate Bridge
and change their minds halfway down.
This is a poem for everybody who jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge
because they all change their minds halfway down. I have
faith that nobody wants to die for any time period longer
than the few seconds it actually takes to commit suicide.
This is a poem for the music student who died after being caught in
a flash fire while trying to relieve a bad case of hemmorrhoids
with gasoline. Don't ask me about the details.
This is a poem about John Edward Blue, who was being baptized on
August 13, 1984, when he and the minister performing the
baptism slipped and fell backward into deep water. The minister
survived, but Blue drowned.
This is a poem for the minister who survived. He sits alone now, and
prays quietly for clarity and forgiveness.
This is a poem for me. No. This is a poem for the me I used to be, the
me who once drove drunk on purpose, knowing I was too drunk
to drive well, quite sure I might die in a crash. I was the one
who changed his mind halfway through the ride, stopped the car
in the middle of the road, and walked home. The car was still
running, engine idling, when the tow truck arrived, a few
hours later.
This is a poem for the me that kept driving and crashed through a
guardrail into the river, or smashed head-on into a car full
of teenagers returning from a high school basketball game, or
rolled over 22 times, down the highway, car coming to a rest
on its wheels, roof collapsed on my head.
This is a poem for my oldest brother, who is still alive and living
with our parents on the reservation, but who I worry about
when my telephone rings in Seattle. Every so often, I have to
catch my breath before I can pick up the receiver.
This is a poem for my oldest sister and her husband, who died in a
trailer fire in Montana when a curtain drifted on wind and
touched a hot plate left burning. My sister and her husband
were passed out in the back bedroom, too drunk to wake, even
when the flames and smoke danced through their bedroom.
This is a poem for my father, who has a sore on his foot that will
never heal. He salts his food with vengeance, like he was taking
revenge on everybody who had ever done him wrong.
This is a poem for my tribe, who continue to live in the shadow fo
the abandoned uranium mine on our reservation, where the
night sky glows in a way that would have invoked songs and
stories a few generations earlier, but now simply allows us
to see better as we drive down the highway toward a different
kind of moon.

Sherman Alexie...........from The Summer of Black Widows.

Sex in Motel Rooms

Sex in Motel Rooms


Because I need music
I press my ear to the wall

and listen to the lovers
in the next room

as they undress each other
as they undress each other.

The glorious

of one shirt, two shirts
clanging to the floor.


After she came
she rolled away

and fell off the edge
of the twin bed.


As I drive home
to the reservation

I pass my the motel
where I white girl I loved

during high school
lost her virginity
to a white boy
after the goddamn prom.


One the first night of our honeymoon
we lie in bed, too exhausted for sex

or conversation. Instead, we listen
to the surf, wave after wave after wave.


On the couch, X wants Y
to take off her pants

but she refuses
because her friend, Z

is naked in bed
on the other side

of the room
with X's best friend, A

who is desperately
in love with Y.


O, the lonely country!
O, the lonely city!
O, the lonely motel!
O, the lonely bed!
O, the lonely man!


There are two beds in the room. Of course
we make love in one, fall asleep in the other.


Listen, she says, I always wanted
to watch a pornographic movie

in a hotel room, so my boyfriend
and I ordered one, pay-per-view

but it wasn't real porn. I mean
they didn't show any penetration.

It was just a bunch of shots
of sweaty bellies and profiles,

really tame, generic stuff,
and it barely aroused us

so we just sort of kissed
and fondled each other

then fell asleep, still
wearing most of our clothes.


In the darkness, her dark body grows darker
until I am making love to her and her shadow.


In Santa Monica, over
the course of three nights

the woman in the next room
sleeps with three different men.

I watch them all arrive
through the security peephole

in my door. One of the men
is beautiful, one is ugly

and the third is a waiter
from the restaurant downstairs.


Scientists recently examined a hotel room comforter
and discovered 412 different samples of sperm.


Okay, he says, I'm not one of those guys
who sleeps with anything that moves

but the threat of AIDS prevented me
from even thinking

about becoming one of those guys.
AIDS is a shitty deal for everybody

but it's a really shitty deal for sex in general.
After all, our parents got to fuck

and fuck and fuck and fuck
without the fear of death.

I mean, I think all the liberalism
and progressive social change

during the sixties happened
because everybody was fucking

like crazy. And I think we elected
and re-elected that right-wing Reagan asshole

because nobody was fucking.
That's right, sex and politics

are linked. Tight as tight.
If it was up to me, I'd set up this motel

where sex was happening
in every room. Sex and food.

I mean, the mini-bars would be filled
with cheese and crackers and fruit.

Room service would be complimentary.
Good coffee machines.

Sex and jobs, too.
I mean, in order to participate

you'd have to work at the motel,
janitor, maid, waiter, something.

Sex and love, of course
I mean, if you wanted to, you could

just have sex with one person.
That would be permitted

maybe even encouraged.
Everybody would have enough sex

everybody would have enough food
and everybody would have a job.


Home with her
we get ready for bed

brush our teeth, wash our faces
all of those small ceremonies

and then we're beneath
the down comforter

on a cold Seattle night
and I'm almost asleep

when she moves close
kisses my ear and asks me

to pretend we're in the last
vacant motel room in the world.

Sherman Alexie.......from One Stick Song

Soon to be a National Geographic Special

Soon to be a National Geographic Special

All the Indian boys in the world
gathered into one red Toyota Celica
or perhaps it was just Steve, Tom, and me
though, truthfully speaking, it wasn't Tom

at all. In fact, in was his brother, Dan, but I want
to place Tom in the Celica with Steve
and me because Tom killed himself
a few years back, and I miss him.

I want to remember him
in some poem, in this particular poem
because I am a poet now, though
I wasn't a poet back then. Of course

Tom wasn't a poet and he wasn't
an Indian either, which means his brother
wasn't Indian, and Steve was only
a little bit Indian himself, but he grew up

on the reservation, and therfore
was a full Indian pretty much
by osmosis. So, now, to reiterate, the Toyota
was filled with all the Indian boys

in the world (meaning there was one
white boy who was only there
metaphorically, one mostly white boy
made Indian by association, and one

true and actual Indian boy), as the auto sped
through the reservation night, as
it insulted the cold air with the heat
of its arrival and passage, as we Indian boys

laughed at the impossibility
of the Northern Lights, as the Great Barn Owl
swooped down over the road, its epic wings
stretching from ditch to ditch, its epic wings

striking flames as it roared directly
toward all of the Indian boys
in the world, as Steve slammed
on the brakes, or more likely, it was Tom

who slammed on the brakes (meaning
that his brother Dan slammed
on the brakes) as the Great Barn Owl flew
just a few feet above the pavement

as it grew so large and impossible
in the headlights, as all of the Indian boys
in the world, in the Toyota Celica, decided
they were going to die, die, die

as that Great Barn Owl suddenly lifted
into the air, just barely avoiding
a terrible head-on collision, as the three of us
ducked our heads in reflex, as we turned

to look behind us, turned to look
at our past, at our future, as we turned to see
that Great Barn Owl disapper
somewhere behind the poker-faced moon.

Sherman Alexie...........from One Stick Song

Open Books

Open Books

Along with the sonnets and blank verse
comes this: the gossip
about which poet is sleeping
with which poet, about who left whom

for who. Don't you know
the formalists only go to bed
with other formalists
but the free versers will screw
anybody, except the novelists.

The promiscuous poets fill the shelves
with their thin volumes, the selected
and collected lovers, the beautiful lies

occupying a line or stanza
or even the whole poem. I am
reminded of R, the poet's son
who smiled when I told him
how much I loved his daddy's poems

especially the epic one about love and the canyon
and the sunset, all of it
coming together as he held the hands of his wife and son
as they all stood on the edge
of their lives, a mile above the river flowing, no, raging
between rock walls.

"Ha," said the poet's son,"I remember
my mother and I sat in the car
and watched my father pace back
and forth outside the ranger's station
at the canyon. Hell, we never
even got close to the actual

canyon. My father was all pissed off
because my mom hated the outdoors.
He gave us both the silent treatment
when we drove back to the motel.

Later on, my mother and I went out
for hamburgers while my father sat in the room
and wrote that goddamn poem."

Yes, yes, yes, let us now celebrate
fathers and sons, mothers and daughters
for we are all of those things.

Please, please, please, let us now celebrate
poets and liars, liars and poets
for we are both of those things.

Let us now celebrate the poet
who splashed his drink in the face
of the undergraduate woman
who would not "kneel and suck his cock,"
during th English Department party.

The poet who would never use
suck and cock in the same line
of a poem. Too percusive for him.
He employs long vowels
and soft consonants to seduce us. He fills
the rooms of his poem
with classical furniture. In his libido

there is no room for the post-modern.
His penis is a penis is a penis, the tool
of a working man, an artisan, sure
and simple. He compares the labia
with one flower or another, maybe all of them.

Let us now celebrate what may or may not be true.
Let us now celebrate the lies
that should be true because they tell us so much.
Let us now celebrate apocrypha.

Let us now celebrate the poet
who asked the woman for her name
as she stood in a long line
to receive one of his autographed books.

"You'd better remember my name," she said
"You fucked me last night."

I want to find that woman. I want her to be
the pretty one walking down the street. I want her
to be Annabel Lee. I want her to be the lady in red.
I want her to be the blue eyes on Gatsby's wall.
I want her to be the poet with revenge on her mind.

Let us now celebrate the litarary illusion.
Let us now celebrate the trope and the willful
enjambment. Let us now celebrate
the assonance and alliteration of all of it.
Let us now celebrate the sound of our own voices.

Let us now celebrate the long affairs between poets.
Let us now celebrate the one-night stands between poets.
Let us now celebrate the quick marriage and quicker divorce.
Let us now celebrate the fist and bruised face.
Let us now celebrate the knife.

Let us now celebrate the poet who shot at his wife
but missed once, twice, three tims. Thank God
he was a better poet than marksman.
Thank God for his poems: bitter, rude, profane.
Thank God for his poems: racist, sexist, pornographic.
Thank God for his poems: lovely, lovely, lovely.
Thank God he wrote love poems to his son
even as he beat the boy bloody into corners.

Let us now celebrate the poet who wrote odes
to her husband on the skin of her lover's back.

Let us now celebrate the poet whose poems adorn
the walls of museums, the walls of museums
while her children are raised by somebody else's parents.

Yes, yes, yes, let us now celebrate the children
of poets. Let us now celebrate the husbands and wives
of poets. Let us now celebrate the mothers
of fathers of poets. Let us now celebrate the neighbors

of poets who are kept awake by constant clatter
of keys and teeth. Let us now celebrate the lovers
of poets. Let us now celebrate the pets of poets,
the kicked pooch and the starving kitten, the venerated
horse and sacrificial cow, the kissing fish
and fossilized hamster.

Let us now celebrate the poet
who put the shotgun to his head
and blew his genius brains
into a glass of orange juice.

Let us now celebrate the poet
who put her head in the oven.

Let us now celebrate the poet
who put her head in the oven.

Let us now celebrate the man who married them both
and wrote the poems he orated when he buried
them both.

Let us now celebrate the muse, his muse and her muse, your
muse and my muse, their muse and our muse.

Yes, yes, yes, the poets prowl the aisles
of supermarkets and airplanes. They ride bicycles
through urban parks. They climb mountains
that have already been climbed. They pay for dinner.
They tell lies. They test drive the latest Ford
and the most recent Chevrolet. They teach
our children the difference between simile
and metaphor. They tell lies. They go to movies
and weep at happy endings. They tell lies.
They sing in the shower. Most sing poorly.
All of them tell lies. All of them tell lies.

Let us always celebrate the poets.

Please, please, please, the poets are scattered
around the room like stars. They blink and stutter.
They are light years away from us. They could die
today and news of their death, the shutting
off, would not reach us for decades.

Sherman Alexie..........from One Stick Song

Introduction to Western Civilization

Introduction to Western Civilization

In Spain, on the Mediterranean coast, there is a walled city
which has been inhabited for thousands of years,

though many parts have fallen to ruin, such as the church
which now consists of a wall and an anonymous room.

On the exterior wall of the church, a metal basket extends
toward the sea. I thought it might have been used for a game

until Bengt explained that the basket once held
the skulls of enemy soldiers, and served
as a vivid warning against any further attacks on the church.

Sherman Alexie.............from The Summer of Black Widows

What We Notice, What We Miss

What We Notice, What We Miss

Sixty-seven beer bottles hidden beneath the bed
of the departed houseguest who pretended to be sober.

The fence and what is not
the fence.

In 1976, four bald eagles built nests on the power towers
above the dam.
In 1977, they left. In 1994, they returned and built again.

The mirror that hung in the hallway for twenty years
now hangs in the bedroom.

During the powwow, the fancydancers.
Before the powwow, the grandmothers gathering feathers.

The pain of an arm broken in childhood
seconds after we have broken the other arm as an adult.

The ant
carrying God on its shoulders.

Sherman Alexie.........from The Summer of Black Widows

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reading Harvey Shapiro's Poetry While Standing in Line to See Tom Hanks in APOLLO 13

Reading Harvey Shapiro's Poetry While Standing in Line to see Tom Hanks in APOLLO 13

I am afraid of space, the lack of gravity, the unmeasurable cold.
I am afraid of the distance between Tom Hanks and Harvey Shapiro.

Harvey Shapiro lives in Brooklyn Heights.
He sits by his window and listens to the neighbors.

A lonely car drives by his brownstone at three in the morning.
Why is it lonely? It is not loved.

More than anything, I am afraid of not being loved.
I want to stand under Harvey's window

and wail like a dumb cat.
Throw a shoe at me, Harvey, throw a shoe!

Jesus, I grew up on a reservation
and I wonder...

but there is no time to wonder.
This is America. We check our hats at the door
and jump into the heated debate.

The debate. Should we be spending billions
to send men and women into space
when there are people starving in Brooklyn Heights?

In Brooklyn Heights!

Norman Mailer lives in Brooklyn Heights
and thinks he knows the answer
so he is writing yet another epic novel.
Somebody needs to teach Norman about the haiku.

Harvey Shapiro, what do you say?
Harvey strokes his beard. Harvey smiles.

A strong wind cold blow a star-shaped hole right through
both of us.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows

Bob's Coney Island

Bob's Coney Island

Let's begin with this: America.
I want it all back
now, acre by acre, tonight. I want
some Indian to finally learn
to dance the Ghost Dance right
so that all the salmon and buffalo return
and the white men are sent back home
to wake up in their favorite European cities.

I am not cruel.

Still, I hesitate
when Bob walks us around his Coney Island
the Cyclone still running
the skeleton of the Thunderbolt
the Freak Show just a wall of photographs
the Parachute Drop
which has not been used in 30 years
but still looks like we could
tie a few ropes to the top (Why the hell not?)
and drop quickly down, spinning, unraveling
watching Bob's Coney Island rise
from the ashes of the sad, old carnival
that is so sad because, like Diane says

all carnivals are sad.

We drop to the ground, our knees buckle slightly
at impact. We turn to look at each other
with the kind of love and wonder
that only fear and the release of fear can create.
We climb to the top and parachute down
again and again, because there is an ocean
a few feet away, because Manhattan is just a moment
down the horizon, because there was a 13-year old boy
who believed that Coney Island belonged to him
though we know that all we see
doesn't really belong to anyone

but I'll let Bob have a conditional lease
because I know finally
somebody will take care of this place
even if just in memory.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows

The Museum of Tolerance

The Museum of Tolerance

has opened its doors
and, as agreed, we forgive all sins.

We check our coats
and regretfully remember
the twentieth century: War, war, war
followed closely by manned space flight.

I have the sudden urge to telephone old girlfriends
and apologize!

This is the Museum of Tolerance: one room
with its one exhibit placed on a white satin pillow
which rests comfortably on an antique maple chair.

The exhibit: a small, red stone.

What does it mean? The debate begins simply enough
but adjectives and adverbs soon fill the room.

A man says,"If I am going to love somebody
then she must love me first."

Flashbulbs, the whir of advancing film.

The Museum of Tolerance, thank God, is open all night
but nobody can agree on the price of admission.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows

Going to the Movies with Geronimo's Wife

Going to the Movies with Geronimo's Wife

If you go to the movies with Geronimo"s wife
remember to sing her an honor song.

She misses the desert.
She carries blue stones in her pocket.

If you go to the movies with Geronimo's wife
remember to give her your favorite blanket.

She sits by the fire.
She wears blue stones on her hands.

If you go to the movies with Geronimo's wife
remember that her children are ghosts.

She dances.
She weaves blue stones through her hair.

If you go to the movies with Geronimo's wife
remember that her husband is gone.

She sleeps alone.
She lies down on blue stones.

If you go to the movies with Geronimo's wife
remember that she is your sister.

She keeps your secrets.
She hides blue stones behind her eyes.

If you go to the movies with Geronimo's wife
remember to share your last piece of bread.

She knows hunger.
She feeds you blue stones.

If you go to the movies with Geronimo's wife
remember to tell her a good story.

She listens.
She hears blue stones singing.

If you go to the movies with Geronimo's wife
remember that she has a name.

She owns many names.
She whispers them to blue stones.

Sherman Alexie.............from The Summer of Black Widows

Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment

I prepare the last meal
for the Indian man to be executed

but this killer doesn't want much:
baked potato, salad, tall glass of ice water.

(I am not a witness)

It's mostly the dark ones
who are forced to sit in the chair

especially when white people die.
It's true, you can look it up

and this Indian killer pushed
his fist all the way down

a white man's throat, just to win a bet
about the size of his heart.

Those Indians are always gambling.
Still, I season this last meal

with all I have. I don't have much
but I send it down the line

with the handsome guard
who has fallen in love

with the Indian killer.
I don't care who loves whom.

(I am not a witness)

When it's the warden's stew I don't care
if I add too much salt or pepper.

For the boss I just cook.
He can eat what I put in front of him

but for the Indian man to be executed
I cook just right.

The temperature is the thing.
I once heard a story

about a black man who was electrocuted
in that chair and lived to tell about it

before the court decided to sit him back down
an hour later and kill him all over again.

I have an extra sandwich hidden away
in the back of the refrigerator

in case this Indian killer survives
the first slow flip of the switch

and gets hungry while he waits
for the engineers to debate the flaws.

(I am not a witness)

I prepare the last meal for free
just like I signed up for the last war.

I learned how to cook
by lasting longer than any of the others.

Tonight, I'm just the last one left
after the handsome guard takes the meal away.

I turn off the kitchen lights
and sit alone in the dark

because the whole damned prison dims
when the chair is switched on.

You can watch a light bulb flicker
on a night like this

and remember it too clearly
like it was your first kiss

or the first hard kick to your groin.
It's all the same

when I am huddled down here
trying not to look at the clock

look at the clock, no, don't
look at the clock, when all of it stops

making sense: a salad, a potato
a drink of water--all taste like heat.

(I am not a witness)

I want you to know I tasted a little
of that last meal before I sent it away.

It's the cook's job, to make sure
and I was sure I ate from the same plate

and ate with the same fork and spoon
that the Indian killer used later

in his cell. Maybe a little piece of me
lodged in his mouth, wedged in between

his front teeth, his incisors, his molars
when he chewed down on the bit

and his body arced like modern art
curving organically, smoke rising

from his joints, wispy flames decorating
the crown of his head, the balls of his feet.

(I am not a witness)

I sit here in the dark kitchen
when they do it, meaning

when they kill him, kill
and add another definition of the word

to the dictionary. America fills
its dictionary. We write down kill and everybody

in the audience shouts out exactly how
they spell it, what it means to them

and all of the answers are taken down
by the pollsters and secretaries

who keep track of the small details:
time of death, pulse rate, press release.

I heard a story once about some reporters
at a hanging who wanted the hood removed

from the condemned's head, so they could look
into his eyes and tell their readers

what they saw there. What did they expect?
All of the stories should be simple.

1 death + 1 death = 2 deaths.
But we throw the killers in one grave

and victims in another. We form sides
and have two separate feasts.

(I am not a witness)

I prepared the last meal
for the Indian man who was executed

and have learned this: If any of us
stood for days on top of a barren hill

during an electrical storm
then lightning would eventually strike us

and we'll have no idea for which of our sins
we were reduced to headlines and ash.

Sherman Alexie............from The Summer of Black Widows

How To Remodel the Interior of a Catholic Church

How To Remodel the Interior of a Catholic Church

The mute carpet must be replaced with mute carpet.
White walls will be scraped clean and painted dark blue.

Half of the original pews should face east
while the rest face west.
The parishioners will be performers.

God loves a circus which loves itself.
We shall leave our shoes in the vestibule.

Keep your favorite saint like a coin in your pocket.
Keep your favorite saint like a ringing in your ears.

Hang a small mirror for the Mohawk saint Tekakwitha.
Her smallpox scars disappeared as she died.

The stained glass should be filled with home movies:
Junior imagines a sin, commits the sin, and then is forgiven.

Build nests in the rafters and pray for birds.
Cook simple soups in the kitchen.

Sculpt candles in the shape of beautiful men and women.
Their smoke will still be smoke.

Hope is trying to find a parking space.
Charity is looking for her name tag.

Grace is a child crying in the balcony.
Faith is a woman sitting in a folding chair.

The choir is a jukebox that plays three songs
for a quarter.
The priest's pockets are heavy with change.

Sherman Alexie.........from The Summer of Black Widows

Prayer Animals

Prayer Animals

Do not try and convince me the United States is anything
other than Savannah.
Weeds burst through the sidewalk.
Drought washes the car window, then wipes its face
with the same dirty handkerchief.
Secret meetings.
The newspaper explains about the food chain.

I am the gazelle in braids and powwow jeans.
Sometimes before sunset, I scan the horizon,
then bend my head to the stream.
The water is cold and clear.
I have 355 degree vision.
My only question: Will the hunter use the rifle
or his teeth?

Sherman Alexie...............from The Summer of Black Widows



Up here, where no Indian was ever meant to be
I carry the small and useful things for safety:

generic novel, movie magazine, book of poems
by the latest great poet, bottle of water, and faith

or guilt, depending on the amount of turbulance.
Like everyone else, I believe in God most

when I'm closest to death. How did I become this
Catholic, and catholic, wanting to get to Heaven

as painfully and quickly as everyone else?
Maybe I can look out the window and see God

sitting on the wing. Maybe God is in First Class
enjoying a complimentary carafe of red wine.

"If God is on the plane," I told the flight attendant,
"then I am safe.""However," she said,"I don't think

God is on the passenger list.""I just want
to know who has the best chance of saving my life,"

I asked the flight attendant."The pilot," she said
but it sounded exactly like she said I could survive

any wreck if I said the last word of my latest prayer
at the exact moment of impact. How did I become this

Indian flying from one anonymous city to another?
They're all anonymous to me. I can't tell

the difference between New York City and Eugene, Oregon.
I woke up one morning in Tulsa and cried

for all the losses, the bleached bones of buffalo
buried out there on the Great Plains, then realized

I was still in San Francisco, waiting for the earthquake
and wanting it to reveal the bones of all the prisoners

drowned and concealed during that long swim
between Alcatraz and the shore. We are all prisoners.

How did I become this poor Indian with his hands folded
into fists, into a tightly wound prayer, as air became ground

and this airplane, my airplane, landed safely
in the light rain? I walked down the stairs,

disembarked, and asked the ground crew if they knew
why this Indian was in the exact place

where no Indian was ever meant to be.
"Engineers," they said, but it sounded exactly

like they said there is a thin, unwavering line
between God and the next available flight.

How did I become this crazy
Catholic who steals the navigational flags

and races down the runway, waving at them all, all
those planes trafficking in the dusky sky? I count

one, two, up to seven planes. I count and count.
I wave those flags (I want to light fires) and I wave

those flags (I want to light fires). I want
to bring all those planes in, bring them all in

even though each plane might contain a madman
because each plane might instead contain the woman

who wants to light a fire. I stand on the runway waving
them all in, with my left arm like this and my right arm

frantic, wanting to know how I became like this,
just like this, wanting to bring everybody back home.

Sherman Alexie...............from The Summer of Black Widows

Harmful Jazz

Harmful Jazz

from the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, January 23, 1921

Jazz music is proving too much
for the American Indian,

says Dr. Henry Beets, secretary of the Christian
Reformed Church Missions.
He declares that the jazz and the shimmy are
driving the redskin back to the war dance.

He suggests that the Interior Department stop
Indian maids and youths dancing modern steps,

in order to save their morals
and bring them back
to the paths of their fathers.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows

Last Will and Testament

Last Will and Testament

By now, of course, you realize that I have lost
the house keys again. Change the dictionary:
"bread" now means "book".

I forgot to laugh the last time we made love.
Tell Wovoka we never could dance that long.

What I have accomplished: enough faith to fill my mouth.
Bury a salmon with me.

I still don't know all the words to that song.
Cut your hair and hide the feathers for a year.

What I neglected: rivers.
Leave the television on while you sleep.

I take secrets with me.
Learn to speak to the Deaf.

Dollar bills are secreted between the pages of every book
on my shelf.
Drive my car until it runs out of gas and leave it
where it stops.

I shot an arrow blindly and hit forgiveness.
Keep fresh ice in the freezer.

The birds are not jealous of our thumbs.
Jitterbug: my father can teach you.

With each war, remember I would have opposed it.
Wear my old shirts to work.

Always, somewhere, a boy and girl is bouncing a basketball.
Pray in public places.

Tortilla chips and salsa.
Give my blankets to Indians with short hair.

Not once in my life did I ever want to get out of bed.
Sell our shared home and move into a new place.

I only seriously contemplated killing one person.
Turn the mirrors against the walls.

With all the metaphors in the world at your disposl,

Sherman Alexie...........from The Summer of Black Widows

Grand Entry

Grand Entry

She danced
this way through all
my doors
this nomadic woman

who had danced away
from so much before
then changed her dance
and now calls me

Home. She leaned into me
with all her stories
and trusted gravity
trusted her sense

of balance, trusted mine.
She leaned into me
with all of her hair
that would not be braided.

She leaned into me
with all of her faith
that would not be traded.
She leaned into me

and asked me to owl dance
and I could not refuse.
She asked me to owl dance
and I remembered how

to dance that way, how
to move my body
with her body, dancing
around a specific fire.

She danced
this way, inside all
my rooms
and changed their shape

this nomadic woman
who is the last curve
the circle of my life.

Sherman Alexie.........from The Summer of Black Widows

Hows We Learn to Say "Mouth" and "Hand" and "Small of Back"

How We Learn to Say "Mouth" and "Hand" and "Small of Back"

Body to body
do we create

We are Indian

woman and man
(brown skin

on brown skin)
and don't speak

our tribal languages
so when we touch

I pray, you pray
we pray

that we create
all these words

in the good way
our grandparents did

with our own true tongues.

Sherman Alexie.........from The Summer of Black Widows

Tuesday, October 28, 2008



What is comes to is this: bread.

Its creation the product of hunger and imagination.

We forget about it until we see it again on the table.

Tribes have gone to war because of wheat and corn.

When it is all you have to eat, there is never enough.

A sad day, when you first realize the difference
between good and bad bread.

Who first saw its possibilities?

If you feed enough to a bird, its stomach will explode.
True or False?

Every culture is measured by its bread.

My mother makes her prodigal bread only when I visit.

It has always been meal for the poor and afterthought
for the rich.

I walk by a bakery and realize why smell is the most
important sense.

Sunday mornings, we wash it down with coffee, then
swallow it dry as Eucharist that afternoon.

The sacred and the utilitarian share an apartment
overlooking the river.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows.

Fire as Verb and Noun

Fire as Verb and Noun

"Working from a carefully developed understanding of his place
in an oppressed culture, (Alexie) focuses on the need to tear
down obstacles before nature tears them down. Fire is therefore
a central metaphor: a sister and brother-in-law killed, a burnt
hand, cars aflame."
-----Publisher's Weekly

"Sherman, I'm sorry your sister was killed by a metaphor"
-----Donna Beach


Fire, then
turn the page and


more fire.


I know only a little about it:


There is something about the color
of the flames that can reveal
what chemicals fuel the fire.

I remember that simple fact.

What color are the flames that rise
off a burning body?

What color were the flames that rose
off my sister's and brother-in-law's bodies?

If they were the same color
does that mean they loved each other?

If they were different
does that mean they were soon to be divorced?

Maybe I should strike a match
to my skin and use the light
to search for the perfect woman
and hold her tightly
against my flames until


she collapses into ash.


If I were, let's say, to come across a burning house
on the way back home from the supermarket

could I change the color of the flames
if I emptied the contents of my shopping bags

onto the blaze? Would the firemen run from hydrant
to hydrant and dodge Golden Delicious apples

while the station house Dalmation licked
the puddles of Pepsi as the old white man

cursed me for wasting the food
which could feed all of the Third World?

So many questions
and then a Holocaust here, a Holocaust there


a Holocaust everywhere.


Let's say I am a Jew.
I am a Jew
who lost a sister and a brother-in-law
in the ovens
during World War II. No, let's say

I am an American
Indian who had heated bayonets
held against his hands
until they blistered
and blossomed open. No, let's say

this all happened to me
because I can't tell the difference
between the size of a metaphor
and the temperature
of the flame. No, let's say

I only believe in two metaphors:
God and God
as the Burning Bush
which uses our questions
like kindling.


On the application for a driver's license, they will ask you this:
What do you do, as you are driving down the freeway toward a car
aflame with the passenger still trapped inside, when a flicker of
insecurity becomes a sudden roar inside you and convinces you
there is somebody driving behind you who is much more deserving
of saving a life?


a. You drive past the burning car to the next exit, pull into
the closest parking lot, and weep violently.

b. You stop the car, open your door, roll to the pavement, and
wave your arms wildly, as if you were a small bird too small
for flight.

c. You call your mother on your cellular phone and blame her
for everything that's gone wrong in your life.

d. You search the radio stations for news of the next solar


e. None of the above.


What do you do
when your sister burns
like a bad firework?

She sparks
and sputters
smokes uselessly

and leaves
only a shell
a husk

and the smell
and the smell
and the smell and


it smells exactly like what it is.


There is a grave on the Spokane Indian Reservation
where my sister is buried. I can take you there.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows

Sister Fire, Brother Smoke

Sister Fire, Brother Smoke

Have I become an accomplished liar,
a man who believes in his own inventions?
When I see my sister in every fire,

is it me who sets her in those pyres
and burns her repeatedly? Should I mention
I may have become an accomplished liar,

a man who was absent when his sister died,
but still feeds those flames in the present tense?
When I see my sister in every fire,

am I seeing the shadow that survived her
conflagration? Because of my obsession
I have become an accomplished liar,

who strikes a match, then creates a choir
of burning matches, with the intention
of seeing my sister in every fire?

Is she the whisper of ash floating high
above me? I offer these charred questions.
Have I become an accomplished liar
if I see my sister in every fire?

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows

Death of the Landlord

Death of the Landlord

My landlord died.
His wife was alone

in her kitchen
across the street.

I can see her
through the window.

This is not about my father.

He was a good landlord.
He hired men from halfway houses

to mow the lawn.
My landlord trusted

they would not steal.
He offered them water.

This is not about my father.

The landlord's wife mourns.
She holds a clean cup.

She gathered my mail
when I was away

and kept it behind a chair
in her living room.

The door was unlocked.
I'd enter quietly

and take my mail
without disturbing their sleep.

My landlord slept
in an oxygen tent.

My landlord's wife falls
asleep in her favorite chair.

This is not about my father.

My landlord stood
on his front porch

and waved to me
as my taxi left

for the airport.
I always promised

to stop and visit
when I returned

with news of my world.
My landlord has left

all of our worlds.
His wife drives away

in a blue car
to her grandson's wedding.

She waves.
I wave back.

I am leaving myself soon
to live in a different city.

This is not about my father.

When mourning
I stand still.

When mourning
I hold my breath.

When mourning
I stand still.

When mourning
I exhale.

This is not about my father.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows



Having learned sugar kills me
piece by piece. I have to eat
with more sense
than taste.

so I travel alone in this
limited feast, choosing
the right place
and plate

and take the hard bread exactly
in my teeth, knowing what
the bread contains is
what contains me.

Sherman Alexie...........from The Summer of Black Widows

Father and Farther

Father and Farther

Such waltzing was not easy
----Theodore Roethke


In McNeil Island Prison for bad checks, my father worked to pay
back his debts. One morning, a few weeks before his scheduled
release date, he climbed the power tower for some routine line
repair and touched a live wire. Unconscious and burned, he fell
five feet before his safety line snapped taunt.


My father knows how to jitterbug.
How many Indians can say that?


He attended Catholic school on purpose. There, the nuns taught
him how to play piano. He refuses to play now, and offers no
explanations for his refusal. There is a photograph of my father
and his sister sitting side by side at a piano. She is wearing a
silk dress. He is wearing a coat and tie. Did she know how to play
the piano? I assume she could. She attended the same Catholic
school as my father. She died in 1980. My father stood beside
her coffin and did not sing.


Late night, Yakama Indian Reservation, my father drunk, telling
stories. We had traveled there to play in an all Indian basketball
tournament. My father was the coach. I was the shooting guard. We
had a bad team and were eliminated quickly. We camped in a cheap
hotel. Four players to a room, though my father and I were alone
for some reason. "Listen," my father said,"I was a paratrooper in
the war." "Which war?" I asked. "All of them," he said.


My father drinks cough syrup
because he believes it heals everything.

My father drinks cough syrup
because he watched RFK's last news conference.

My father drinks cough syrup
because he has a tickle in the back of his throat.

My father drinks cough syrup
because he has survived twenty-three car wrecks.

My father drinks cough syrup
because he wants to stop the influenza virus at the door.

My father drinks cough syrup
because he once saw Lana Turner in a parade.

My father drinks cough syrup
because he is afraid of medicine.


Of course, by now, you realize this is a poem about my father. It
could also be a series of exaggerations and outright lies. I might
be talking about another man who wears my father's mask. Behind
the mask, he could be anybody.


Summer evening, 1976. Our father is thirsty. He knows his children
are thirsty. He rummages through our house in search of loose
change. He finds a handful of coins. He walks to the Spokane
Tribal Jail which, for some unknown reason, has the only soda
pop machine on the reservation. My father has enough change for
six Pepsis. It is quiet. We can hear mosquitos slamming through
the screen door. The jail is only a few hundred feet from our
house. If we listen closely, we can hear our father dropping
change in the machine. We can hear the sodas drop into the
dispenser. My father gathers the cans. He carries them back
to us.


Basketball is
a series of prayers.

Shoot the ball
and tell me

you believe

My father
shoots the ball.

As it spins away
my father prays.


My father often climbed into a van with our crazy cousins
and left us for days to drink. When he came back, still drunk,
he always popped "Deer Hunter" into the VCR. He never made it
past the wedding scene. I kept watching it after he'd passed
out. Halfway through the movie, John Savage and Robert De Niro
play a sick game of Russian Roulette while their Vietcong
captors make wagers on the probable survivor. De Niro asks for
more bullets. Two bullets, three. He knows the odds. He holds
the gun to his head. He has a plan.


As he dribbles
past you, into the
paint, then stops, pivots
and gives the big man
a head fake, you must
remember that my
father can shoot with either
the right or left hand.


During the World's Fair in 1974, my father and I rode over
Spokane Falls in a blue gondola. No, it was more like a chair.
Our legs and feet floated free. I looked down into the water.
My father held his left arm around me. He must have been afraid
of gravity. Then my left shoe came loose because the laces were
not tight enough. My shoe would have slipped from my foot if I
hadn't pressed my other shoe against it. My father told me to
hang on. He was smiling as I struggled to keep my shoe. I had
written my name across the top of it. I looked down into the
water. My father was laughing. The chair was blue. It was 1974.
The entire world was walking the streets below us. My mother
was dancing for tourists in the North American exhibit. My
siblings were sleeping in the station wagon. Gravity. The
water. My shoe. I looked at my father. He held me tightly.
He told me to hold on.

Sherman Alexie............from The Summer of Black Widows

When I Was My Father I Sang Love Songs to My Son

When I Was My Father I Sang Love Songs to My Son

Drunk like that, I
imagined myself as

you, drunk like that
and carried the same

small ambition: I
only wanted to live

one day longer than you.

Sherman Alexie.............from The Summer of Black Widows

Grandmother, Porcupine, Traffic

Grandmother, Porcupine, Traffic

When Big Mom saw porcupine
dead in the middle of any road
she ordered the car stopped.

Big Mom stopped
traffic as she stepped in the road
and dragged the old porcupine

from the pavement. The crushed porcupine
thick with quills, but that never stopped
Big Mom. Beside the road

she pulled quills from its skin. The road
filled with slowed cars. The porcupine
full of blood, stopped

and cold. Big Mom never stopped
long enough to notice the road
had ceased to be road. The porcupine

would always be porcupine
no matter that its heart had stopped.
Its sharp quills were more useful than a road.

I never stepped in the road
with Big Mom and porcupine.
To this day, I have neither stopped

nor slowed my life, never stopped
to pull porcupine from the road
because I loved procupine.

Big Mom loved porcupine
even as she grew too old to have the car stopped
and cried as she left porcupine alone on the road.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows



In the spring of 1954, two non-Indian brothers, James and John, and a
Chippewa named Leo, went searching for God on the Spokane
Indian Reservation. It was midnight. They carried geiger counters
and a mineral light. They found pieces of God whispering beneath a
spur of Lookout Mountain. When they cracked open the earth, it was
so bright that it fooled the birds, who lifted into flight.

The half-life of a raven
is still a life.
Raven stopped the flood.

First came the arguments about claim rights. Then came the mining
companies and the government. In 1956, they paid $340,000 for the
land that bordered the claim. My cousins Richard and Lucy Boyd,
brother and sister, received most of the money. Lucy died in a car
wreck in 1961. In 1969, Richard choked to death on a piece of steak.
The buried both on the reservation, though I have never visited their

A rusty tin cup
sits on a woodstove
in the abandoned house.

The uranium trucks rolled for most of two decades, dropping hot dust
on the heads of Indian children standing beside the road. I remember
waving to the truck drivers, who were all white men. I remember
they always waved back. When the mines closed down, the empty
trucks rumbled away. I cannot tell you how many coffins we filled
during the time of the trucks, but we learned to say "cancer" like we
say "oxygen" and "love".

Grandmother died on her couch
covered with seven quilts,
one for each of her children.

The white men quickly abandoned the mine. They left behind pools
of dirty water, barrels of dirty tools, and mounds of dirty landfill.
They taught us that "dirty" meant "safe". After the white men left,
Indians guarded the mine. My uncle worked the graveyard shift. If he
listened closely as he made his rounds, he could hear Chimakum Creek,
just a few hundred feet to the south.

In this light
we can see the bones of salmon
as they swim.

For decades, we Spokanes stared into the bright sky with envy and
built flimsy wings for ourselves. For decades, we pressed our breasts
and scrotums in a kind of ceremony. Now, in 1994, the white men
have come back to clean what they left behind. They plan to dig
deeper holes and fill them with fresh water. They plan to dump
indigenous waste into those lakes, and then add waste shipped in
from all over the country. They gave us a 562-page bible that
explains why we cannot stop them.

Two suns:
Abel fell from the sky,
Cain rose from the lake.

Sherman Alexie.........from The Summer of Black Widows.

Song of Ourself

Song of Ourself

While Walt Whitman sang about his body, the still body
of one Indian grew into two, then ten, then multitudes.

Sherman Alexie...........The Summer of Black Widows

That Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump

That Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump

Coyote was alone and angry because he could not find love.
Coyote was alone and angry because he demanded a wife

from the Spokane, the Coeur d'Alene, the Palouse, all those tribes
camped on the edge of the Spokane River, and received only laughter.

So Coyote rose up with his powerful and senseless magic
and smashed a paw across the water, which broke the river bottom

in two, which created rain that lasted forty days and nights,
which created Spokane Falls, that place where salmon travelled

more suddenly than Coyote imagined, that place where salmon swam
larger than any white man dreamed. Coyote, I know you broke

the river because of love, and pretended it was all done by your design.
Coyote, you're a liar and I don't trust you. I never have

but I do trust all the stories the grandmothers told me.
They said the Falls were built because of your unrequited love

and I can understand that rage, Coyote. We can all understand
but look at the Falls now, and tell me what you see. Look

at the Falls now, if you can see beyond all of the concrete
the white man has built here. Look at all of this

and tell me that concrete ever equals love, Coyote,
these white men sometimes forget to love their own mothers

so how could they love this river which gave birth
to a thousand lifetimes of salmon? How could they love

these Falls, which have fallen farther, which sit dry
and quiet as a graveyard now? These Falls are that place

where ghosts of salmon jump, where ghosts of women mourn
their children who will never find their way back home,

where I stand now and search for any kind of love,
where I sing softly, under my breath, alone and angry.

Sherman Alexie...........The Summer of Black Widows

The First and Last Ghost Dance of Lester Falls Apart

The First and Last Ghost Dance of Lester Falls Apart

It rained buffalo
in a wheat field
just off the reservation.

Confused and homeless
but otherwise free
of injury, the buffalo were rounded up and shipped
to Spokane's Walk in the Wild Zoo.

From behind a symbolic chain link fence
the buffalo stared

at white visitors
who soon became very nervous.

Everything beautiful
begins somewhere.

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows

Glossary of a Powwow

Glossary of a Powwow

women's traditional dancer

her beads
affect the weather

men's traditional dancer

His feathers
will not fall

jingle dress dancer

she creates more music
than a symphony

grass dancer

he sways within
his own storm

fancy shawl dancer

she wears wings
outside the aviary

men's fancy dancer

he mimics
his favorite color


this is not practice
they are dancing

Sherman Alexie..........from The Summer of Black Widows

Mistranslation of a Traditional Spokane Indian Song

Mistranslation of a Traditional Spokane Indian Song

and then bear says to me
that he wishes he did not have to sleep through the winter
because he has seen the photograph
and is quite convinced
that snow is most beautiful
on the midnight basketball court
of a reservation town
where the dark ghosts of Indian children
leave no trace of their passing
as they run from hoop to hoop
way ya hi yo
way ya hi yo

Sherman Alexie.........from The Summer of Black Widows

The Summer of Black Widows

The Summer of Black Widows

The spiders appeared suddenly
after that summer rainstorm.

Some people still insist the spiders fell with the rain
while others believe the spiders grew from the damp soil like wees
with eight thin roots.

The elders knew the spiders
carried stories in their stomachs.

We tucked our pants into our boots when we walked through the fields
of fallen stories.
An Indian girl opend the closet door and a story fell into her hair.
We lived in the shadow of a story trapped in the ceiling lamp.
The husk of a story museumed on the windowsill.
Before sleep we shook our blankets and stories fell to the floor.
A story floated in a glass of water left on the kitchen table.
We opened doors slowly and listened for stories.
The stories rose on hind legs and offered their red bellies to the most
beautiful Indians.
Stories in our cereal boxes.
Stories in our firewood.
Stories in the pockets of our coats.
We captured stories and offered them to the ants, who carried the
stories back to their queen.
A dozen stories per acre.
We poisoned the stories and gathered their remains with broom
and pan.

The spiders disappeared suddenly
after that summer lightning storm.

Some people will insist the spiders were burned to ash
while others believe the spiders climbed th lightning bolts
and became an new constellation.

The elders knew the spiders
had left behind bundles of stories.

Up in the corners of our old houses
we still find those small white bundles
and nothing, neither fire
nor water, neither rock nor wind
can bring them down.

Sherman Alexie.........from The Summer of Black Widows

Monday, October 27, 2008



We waited in the car
outside the bar
my sisters and I
"for just a couple of drinks"
as we had heard it
so many times before
as Ramona said
like all Indian kids
have heard

from their parents, disappeared into the smoke and laughter of a
reservation tavern, emerging every half hour with Pepsi, potato
chips, and more promises. And, like all Indians have learned, we
never did trust those promises. We knew to believe something
when it happened, learned to trust the source of a river and never
its mouth. But this is not about sadness. This is about the stories

beneath the sleeping bags
between starts
to warm up the car
because my parents trusted me
with the keys.
This is about the stories
I told my sisters

to fill those long hours, waiting outside the bar, waiting for my
mother, my father to knock on the window, asking "Are you warm
enough? Are you doing all right? We'll be out soon, okay?"
Sometimes, we refused to open the locked doors for our parents,
left them to gesture wildly, and make all of us laugh because there
was nothing else left to do. But this is not about sadness. This is
about the stories.

I created
how I built
landscapes and imaginary saviors.
Once, I dreamed a redheaded woman,
gave her name and weight
and told my sisters
she would rescue us
from our own love

for this mother and father who staggered from the bar always five
minutes before closing, so they could tell us later "At least we left
before the last call". But we did love them, held tightly to their
alcoholic necks and arms as they drove back home, stole the six pack
they bought "for the road" and threw it out the window, counted
mile markers and coyotes standing on the edge of the road. But
this is not about sadness. This is about the stories, those rough

that thundered the walls
of the HUD house
as my sisters and I lay awake
after we finally arrived home
and listened
to my mother and father dream
breathe deep
in their sleep, snore
like what you might want me to call drums
but in the reservation dark
it meant we were all alive
and that was enough.

Sherman Alexie.............from First Indian On The Moon



There’s nothing hallowed
about this day,
druidism is your Way?
more’s the wayward mind,
wide-eyed drunk,
shriveled and shrunken
talking heads,
like an olive on a tooth pick,
on wrought iron

Cats gutted & strung up
for the fun of it,
mores lost
to treatful days
long past-
a loaded bag
up on granma’s porch-
a trick
too common
to make a stink

By today’s standards
it’s no teen with a match
sans malice-
it’s your 7 year old
stealing daddy’s torch
with a bead on
your head!

What used to be good
old-fashioned mischief
has turned evil eye-
now life imitates art.

Mom says
“don’t let your imagination
run wild with you tonight,
my little precioussssezzzes,

run amok
out of control”


isn’t it just like man
to kill-
when a boo will do?

Janet Leigh October 2008

Little Julian, Where Are You?

Little Julian, Where Are You?

DreamGirl Jennifer,
whole world enfolds you - take heart.
Our God sustain you.


The same Everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you tomorrow and everyday.
Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you
unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace then,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Janet Leigh October 27, 2008

Today Associated Press released:

Boy's body found on Chicago's West Side
Monday October 27 10:32 AM ET
Police in Chicago say the license plate on the white SUV found containing a child's body matches the vehicle listed in the Amber Alert issued for Jennifer Hudson's missing nephew.
Authorities say the body is that of a young black boy, but the child hasn't yet been identified. The vehicle was found early Monday on Chicago's West Side.
Police officials confirmed that the license plate matches the vehicle listed on the Amber Alert issued for 7-year-old Julian King on Friday after Hudson's mother and brother were found shot to death in their home.

The Oscar-winning actress on Sunday offered a $100,000 reward for Julian's safe return.
He's the son of Jennifer Hudson's sister, Julia Hudson.
Police on Sunday transferred custody of a "person of interest" in the killings to state authorities.

"Jennifer and her family appreciate the enormous amount of love, support and prayers they have received while she and her family try to cope with this tragedy and continue the search for Julian," the statement said.

Chicago police ramped up search efforts for Julian around the Englewood neighborhood, where Hudson grew up, and transferred custody of a "person of interest" in the killings to state authorities.

An Amber Alert remained in effect Sunday for Julian, who disappeared Friday, the day the bodies of his grandmother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and 29-year-old uncle Jason Hudson were found in the home they shared on the city's South Side. The deaths were ruled homicides.

The Amber Alert listed William Balfour, the estranged husband of Julia Hudson, as a suspect in a "double homicide investigation."

Police said they did not have a motive for the killings but called the case "domestic related." Bond said Balfour had not been charged.

***Perhaps young Julian was not the body in that car, even though many of us fear it was.





We are taught to take the bread
into our bodies
as proof of Jesus's body.

The bread is metaphor.
The bread is Jesus transubstantiated.
The bread is simply bread.

I have taken all three
of those tenets into my body
though I am Spokane Indian

and also take salmon
into my body
as proof of salmon.

The salmon is my faith returned.
The salmon is not my bread.
The salmon is simply salmon.


Suddenly, we are wed
and I am just as surprised as you
that marriage has become our bread.

You, the Hidatsa Indian
from the North Dakota plains
who did not grow up with salmon

and me, the Spokane, who rarely trusts
the hands of the priest
as he delivers the bread.

During Eucharist, I am afraid
to close my eyes. I want to see
what has been set on the table before me.

Look, I don't know what
would help me believe
that we have become sacred.

Sweetheart, are we the stone
rolling from the mouth
of the tomb that cannot keep him?

Sweetheart, are we the salmon
rising from the mouth
of the river that cannot keep them?


If that was Easter
then the church was full
as we stood against the wall

praying for an empty pew.
If that was Easter
then I rose that morning

in love with you
though I rise every morning
from the water, more or less

in love with you.
If that was Easter
then you were asked

to be the Eucharistic minister.
If that was Easter
then you surprised me

by placing salmon on my tongue.
Then I surprised you
by swallowing it whole.

Amen, amen, amen.

Sherman Alexie............from One Stick Song

The Theology of Cockroaches

The Theology of Cockroaches

Diane says, it might have been
a cockroach
in the upstairs bathroom

though she cannot be positive
because she was otherwise distracted
and only saw it out of the corner
of her eyes, the cockroach

or rather, the potential cockroach
that scuttled along the baseboard
in the bathroom and vanished
before she could get a good look at it.

Have you ever seen a cockroach?
I ask her and she says, Of course
I have, I grew up in California
though I'm not sure what that means

because I have always associated
cockroaches with poverty, grinding
and absolute, constant as gravity
and though I've been poor

I've never been that poor, never
woke to a wall filled with cockroaches
spelling out my name, never
stepped into a dark room and heard

the cockroaches baying at the moon.
Diane saw the cockroach
in the bathroom, one of four bathrooms
in this large house. We are homeowners

and there is a cockroach
or the idea of a cockroach
in the bathroom, a cockroach
scuttling along the hardwood floors.

Did you get a good look at it?
I ask Diane and she says, No, but
it was fast, cockroach-fast.
Not beetle-fast, not

ant-fast, not even spider-fast
but cockroach-fast, disappearing
behind the magazine rack
in the bathroom, slipping

into the crack between floor
and baseboard. Impossible.
Impossible. Impossible.
Impossible. Impossible.

Impossible. The impossible cockroach
is not alone, I think, cockroaches
are never alone, never hermits, never
the last one on the ship, never

the one who dies alone.
Christopher Columbus was a cockroach
and look what followed him.
The cockroach, the cockroach

in the bathroom is watching us
as Diane and I explore
the smallest spaces between
toilet and wall, beneath the sink

and the drawers that contain
the pieces of our life
together. The cockroach
is watching as we discuss

our theories
to explain this cockroach:
the neighbors are remodeling
the old house next door, forcing

cockroaches to migrate, perhaps
fleeing from insecticide
and the sudden absence of food.
Maybe it wasn't a cockroach, I say

and Diane agrees. It could have been
any other kind of insect, it
could have been a hummingbird
for that matter, it could have been

an angel sent to test our faith, it
could have been God, God, God.
That cockroach, that angel
scuttles along the hardwood

and Diane sees it out of the corner
of her eye, in her
peripheral vision, and she believes
it was a cockroach

but she cannot be sure, she only
saw it for a brief moment. God,
I ask Diane, how many humans have seen
God in person, truly seen God

take shape and form, how many?
Moses saw the Burning Bush, she says.
Moses, Moses, Moses, impossible Moses
scuttling along the hardwood

or was it Pharaoh? Or was the cockroach
on fire? Or was the cockroach
not a cockroach at all, but a visible prayer,
a corporeal sin, a tiny piece

of forgiveness? Diane and I kneel
in our bathroom. We are searching
for the cockroach that might have been
a cockroach, or nothing at all.

Sherman Alexie............from One Stick Song

The Mice War

The Mice War

We dumped six garbage cans and watched dozens of mice
race for their lives across the gray sand of the reservation
landfill. With shovel and broomstick, my cousin and I

chased them down. I beheaded twenty-seven before I
simply beat one mouse into a red puddle. The reservation
had taught me to hate, so it was easy to hate the mice.

I swung the shovel until my hands blistered. I killed mice
because they were mice. I swung the shovel until I
could barely raise my arms. I hated the reservation

because it was the reservation. It was my reservation.
I swung the shovel until the surviving mice
ran into the thick grass on the perimeter of the fill. I

chased them down. I beat the grass because it was grass. I
hated the grass because the reservation
had taught me to hate grass. I chased the last mouse

into the last corner. There, in that place, I
stepped on that mouse because it was part of all mice.
I broke its spine because my reservation

believed in broken spines, because my reservation
believed in blood, because my reservation believed in mice
and the broken spines and the blood of mice. Because I

believed in the blood of mice, I kneeled to pray when I
discovered blood on my shoes. O, Lord, the blood of mice.
O, Lord, the broken back of my reservation

trembles and stirs. The fault line that bisects my reservation
shifts me from one sin to another, from the blood of one mouse
to another, from this prayer to that prayer. O, Lord, I

tossed the bloody shoes into the burning barrel. O, Lord I
dropped the dead mice into the fire and the reservation
burned. O, Lord, this is how I remember my war with the mice,

who, in the beginning and in the end, only wanted to be mice,
while we were two Indian boys, my cousin and I
who, in our beginning, in our end, wanted to flee the reservation.

Sherman Alexie..............from One Stick Song