Wednesday, July 21, 2010

quotation of the week (sherman alexie)

Sherman Alexie
(Spokane/Coeur d’Alene)

        Go, Ghost, Go

At this university upon a hill,
         I meet a tenured professor
                 Who's strangely thrilled
         To list all of the oppressors --
Past, present, and future -- who have killed.
Are killing, and will kill the indigenous.
         O, he names the standard suspects --
                 Rich, white, and unjust --
         And I, a red man, think he's correct,
But why does he have to be so humorless?

And how can he, a white man, fondly speak
         Of the Ghost Dance, the strange and cruel
         That, if performed well, would have doomed
All white men to hell, destroyed their colonies,
And brought back every dead Indian to life?
         The professor says, "Brown people
                 From all brown tribes
         Will burn skyscrapers and steeples.
They'll speak Spanish and carry guns and knives.
Sherman, can't you see that immigration
         Is the new and improved Ghost Dance?"
         All I can do is laugh and laugh
And say, "Damn, you've got some imagination.
You should write a screenplay about this shit --
         About some fictional city,
         Grown fat and pale and pretty,
That's destroyed by a Chicano apocalypse."
The professor doesn't speak. He shakes his head
         And assaults me with his pity.
         I wonder how he can believe
In a ceremony that requires his death.
I think that he thinks he's the new Jesus.
         He's eager to get on that cross
         And pay the ultimate cost
Because he's addicted to the indigenous.

Sherman Alexie self-identifies as a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington, which he left to attend a nearly all-white high school (where the only other Indian was the school's mascot). His first screenplay, Smoke Signals, was the first major film produced, written, and directed by American Indians. Alexie is the author of dozens of books and the recipient of nearly as many awards (you can read a bio about him here). The above poem is available online here, and in Alexie's recent book, War Dances. (Image source)


  1. Thanks for featuring Sherman Alexie! He's been one of my favorite authors ever since he came to speak at my high school. I grew up in Seattle, and a lot of his writing is set in Seattle/Washington, so it feels especially personal to me. His prose is wonderfully melodic and crisp, and he frequently writes about the racism experienced by Native Americans. I would highly recommend any of his writing to SWPD readers!

  2. I'm a big fan of his and was fortunate to be able to hear him speak at a conference. Super intelligent and super funny.

  3. Thank you for this, learning goes on.

  4. Yes.

    And I like the allusion in the first line to John Winthrop's sermon/speech. So apt.

  5. Thank you for posting this! I loooved Smoke Signals and didn't know he had written a book, thanks!

  6. This made me think of all the times certain white people have tried to 'school' me on what racism "actually" is when I've tried to point it out to them- like I don't know or understand. Or try to teach me about my culture- whatever that means.

    Very well written piece. I will be looking for more of Mr. Alexie's work.

  7. I like that book he wrote, "Diary of a Part-Time Indian". Really good book.

  8. I heard such good things about 'Diary of a Party Time Indian' and finally managed to get my hands on it a few weeks ago.
    I was beyond disappointed. Frustrated, in fact.
    It followed every cliche that dogs PoC's in literature and in real life.
    Junior falls in love with the white girl, then follow copious descriptions of how unbelievably gorgeous this white girl is (Penny, I think it was?), just how pale and white her skin is to emphasise how beautiful and fragile she is,
    how Penny has to have some sort of pain (bulimia) to legitimise her relationship with Junior so it's not just rich little White girl and poor Indian boy.
    How the football player was so disgustingly racist in his initial comments to Junior but then slowly mellowed into only "a bit racist" and then the genorosity of the footballer was expounded on, chapter after chapter.
    Extremely disappointing.

  9. Nali - I hear you, but the book was actually autobiography. I can't say for certain on the football player, but everyone and everything else in the book actually happened to him. He's spoken about it at length in his other books and poetry. I highly recommend The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (short stories), First Indian on the Moon (poetry), & The Business of Fancydancing (poetry).

  10. I was going with the flow of the poem until I read that the man that he met was a Mexican-American ("chicano"). That complicates matters a lot. (I wouldn't bring it up, but Alexie brings it up, so it's fair game) Is the Chicano a Mexican immigrant? Or, is the Chicano an 8th generation "American" of Pueblo Indian and Spanish ancestry?


Please see the "commenting guidelines" before submitting a comment.

hit counter code