At a Shoe

(Well, my Capstone Project is officially over. But here is one last poem for you.)

There in the corner,

The last of her I cannot throw away.

See, she wore them four days a week

To her job as a waitress,

And the use showed.

Where the soles were together,

They’ve peeled apart,

The blue accents faded to white,

And white gave way to dirty gray.

If you look inside,

The back is breaking

Where, one too many times late,

She shoved in her foot,

Heel pressing, pushing, wearing,

Until the structure broke free of the binding.

.

Next to them sit black, strappy heels,

For Prom.

They still have the sheen

Of brand new plastic,

Never sullied by oil or sweat or lotion.

The tag still hangs on the left one,

Ugly and drab against the shine.

They were too barely-there for her sister

To break in at last week’s October Homecoming,

They never got to be dancing shoes,

Never knew the relief

Of being yanked off at night.

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Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian from Washington State. He’s got a long list of accomplishments, including the film Smoke Signals (1998), books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Lone Ranger and Tanto Fistfight in Heaven, and poetry, like today’s
All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.
The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably
from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.
If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender
and in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian man
then he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture.
If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so white
that we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers.
When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps
at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature:
brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water.
If she is compared to murky water, however, then she must have a secret.
Indians always have secrets, which are carefully and slowly revealed.
Yet Indian secrets can be disclosed suddenly, like a storm.
Indian men, of course, are storms. They should destroy the lives
of any white women who choose to love them. All white women love
Indian men. That is always the case. White women feign disgust
at the savage in blue jeans and T-shirt, but secretly lust after him.
White women dream about half-breed Indian men from horse cultures.
Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian man
unbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.
There must be one murder, one suicide, one attempted rape.
Alcohol should be consumed. Cars must be driven at high speeds.
Indians must see visions. White people can have the same visions
if they are in love with Indians. If a white person loves an Indian
then the white person is Indian by proximity. White people must carry
an Indian deep inside themselves. Those interior Indians are half-breed
and obviously from horse cultures. If the interior Indian is male
then he must be a warrior, especially if he is inside a white man.
If the interior Indian is female, then she must be a healer, especially if she is inside
a white woman. Sometimes there are complications.
An Indian man can be hidden inside a white woman. An Indian woman
can be hidden inside a white man. In these rare instances,
everybody is a half-breed struggling to learn more about his or her horse culture.
There must be redemption, of course, and sins must be forgiven.
For this, we need children. A white child and an Indian child, gender
not important, should express deep affection in a childlike way.
In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written,
all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.
There isn’t much to say about this poem, really, but it’s important nonetheless. If you watch American films, you know how they tend to treat Native Americans- usually exoticised and mysticised. Movies lump them all together, too, like one big, homogeneous group rather than various cultures- like with the “horse culture” reference.
Phrases like “Indians must see visions,” “tragic features,” and “Indians always have secrets” speak to the way American media pushes the same handful of stereotypes onto every character.

Maya Angelou

My (perceived) job doing this blog is not to reiterate the most famous poems an author has, which is why I’m not talking about “Still I Rise” or “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” as great as those poems are. Instead, how about “Preacher, Don’t Send Me“:

(And here is Jammie Jones reading it)

The big theme of this poem is that heaven is hopefully not like earth. It makes sense, from one point of view, as Angelou had a difficult life; and, anyway, what is the

Preacher, don’t send me
when I die
to some big ghetto
in the sky
where rats eat cats
of the leopard type
and Sunday brunch
is grits and tripe.

I’ve known those rats
I’ve seen them kill
and grits I’ve had
would make a hill,
or maybe a mountain,
so what I need
from you on Sunday
is a different creed.

Preacher, please don’t
promise me
streets of gold
and milk for free.
I stopped all milk
at four years old
and once I’m dead
I won’t need gold.

I’d call a place
pure paradise
where families are loyal
and strangers are nice,
where the music is jazz
and the season is fall.
Promise me that
or nothing at all.

Life can be difficult, and it doesn’t seem fantastic to do the same things in heaven that we do on earth (or vie for the same things). Instead, her paradise looks much like a perfect world, where there is no strife, good music, and nice weather. Sounds good to me.

William Blake

Time to do something else a little different! In 1789, William Blake, a romantic, published a poetry compilation called Songs of Innocence; in it were poems like today’s “The Chimney Sweeper (When my mother died…)” and “Holy Thursday.”

In 1794, he republished Songs of Innocence, with additional poems tacked on, calling it Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. Let me tell you, Romantics loved their long titles. Continue reading