Notes From Indian Country

 “I am Odysseus, son of Laertes. All men take account of my wiles and my fame
has reached high heaven. My home is in Ithaca, fair in the evening light.”
—Homer, The Odyssey

An adjectival all-staff meeting at the Indian
college: useless and mandatory. Later
we were forced to listen to a professional
storyteller titter her version of odd Odysseus
returning to the horny climes of Ithaca.
She mimed stringing the bow of Eurytus
but the wide-eyed skins were asleep
except for Verdell
who let a silent onion fart.

Last week I told my Freshman English class
that one-hundred years ago there was no
difference between the sentence
and the paragraph.
I can’t recall where I gleaned that tidbit
or whether or not it was apocryphal.
Then I could not remember
why paragraphs should be
hinged by transitions.

This fixation carried me through the meeting
and took me to the dusky indifference
of Pine Ridge, fair in the evening light.
Home from work I grilled greasy green hamburger
from Sioux Nation Shopping Center.
The glowing coals and mosquitos took me away
from the wannabees, squawmen, and white liberals
who pretend to save Indians by daylight
but vacate the reservation when wild
redskin night rolls in.

With my pot gut and can of Bud I stood
holding my stainless steel spatula
on my neatly trimmed lawn,
the only one in Pine Ridge.
The rest of my neighbors, less crazy,
fill their yards with the flotsam
of American advertising: used Pampers, dead cars,
punctured tires, and empty beer cans
until buzzards swarm like flies
and carry away their unwatched children.

Looking at the seared meat, once sacred
I had a fleeting vision of hope
that eluded grasp.
I was contemplating democracy
and the Chinese students in Peking
who had been failed by America
and how American Indians were Asiatic
yet we are a people beyond definition.
We are not a sentence or a paragraph
and we are definitely
not stanzaic.

Another day at the Indian college was done
and so were my burgers so I moved
them from the grill
and carried the grease lumps
to my oId lady who was looking grumpy,
slicing onions.

We lugged two K-Mart foldup chairs
into our Indian yard
and sat with our humble meal until I popped
the top on my fourth can of Bud.

Ain’t even dark, she chastised but her eyes
were moved by something tumbling
from a diseased elm along the chainlink
fence we put up to protect the thieves and winos
from our ball-biting dogs.
I saw that it was one of our retarded cats falling
from a tree in an abortive dive at a swallow.
I told her it was a small child
just dropped by a passing turkey buzzard.
The bird of prey’s talons had grasped the kid
by the temples, dropping him
brain-damaged back
onto Sioux Indian land.
This is your legacy, I said opening another beer
and she went inside without a word.
I threw my full beer at the cat
and concentrated on my burger.
I closed my eyes and dreamed of McDonald’s.
Yes, I closed my eyes
and dreamed of McDonald’s.

–Adrian C. Louis

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