National Poetry Month, Day 17: Sherman Alexie

photo-11It just hit me that I had to post this poem by Spokane Indian poet Sherman Alexie today, because I love it. It’s from his book First Indian on the Moon (Hanging Loose Press, 1993).

Sherman Alexie is terrific. He’s irreverent, funny, serious, grave, and flip all at once. He wrote a great essay called “Superman and Me” that I teach to my students–and that you, after you read this poem, should read next.


Tiny Treaties

What I remember most about loving you
that first year is the December night
I hitchhiked fifteen miles through a blizzard
after my reservation car finally threw a rod
on my way back home from touching

your white skin again. Wearing basketball shoes
and a U.S. Army Surplus jacket
my hair long, unbraided, and magnified
in headlights of passing cars, trucks, two snowplows
that forced me off the road, escaping

into the dormant wheat fields. I laughed
because I was afraid but I wasn’t afraid
of dying, just afraid of dying
in such a stupid manner. All the Skins
would laugh into their fists

at my wake. All the cousins would tell my story
for generations. I would be the perfect reservation metaphor:
a twentieth century Dull Knife
pulling his skinny ass and dreams
down the longest highway in tribal history.

What I imagine now
is the endless succession of white faces
hunched over steering wheels, illuminated
by cigarettes and dashboard lights, white faces
pressed against windows as cars passed by me

without hesitation. I waited seconds into years
for a brake light, that smallest possible treaty
and I made myself so many promises
that have since come true
but I never had the courage to keep

my last promise, whispered
just before I topped a small hill
and saw the 24-hour lights
of the most beautiful 7-11 in the world.
With my lungs aching, my hands and feet

frozen and disappearing, I promised
to ask if you would have stopped
and picked me up if you didn’t know me
a stranger Indian who would have fallen in love
with the warmth of your car, the radio

and the steady rhythm
of windshield wipers over glass, of tires
slicing through ice and snow. I promised
to ask you that question every day
for the rest of our lives

but I won’t ask you even
once. I’ll just remain quiet
when memories of that first year
come roaring through my thin walls
and shake newspapers and skin.

I’ll just wrap myself
in old blankets, build fires
from bald tires and abandoned houses
and I won’t ask you the question
because I don’t want to know the answer.

? Sherman Alexie



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