Module 4 Discussion
Have attitudes changed as we move from early Native American Literature into later and present-day writings? What writers, along with specific examples, might you cite that represent this shift? What is the focus now and how does it compare to other minorities we have explored?
Select a quote from the reading(see below) to incorporate in your discussion post. This means that you will also include an in-text citation and reference for each quote (Author, year, p. X). Your post should be around 100-150 words in order to receive full credit.
Author, I. (Year published). Title of our textbook. City, State: Publisher.
John-John had been saving dollar bills toward a dream and when he had a shoebox full of bills he sat down to count out his future. “One, two, three,” he counted, all the way up to ten to make a neat stack on the floor and soon, he had two hundred neat stacks in exact rows and columns.
How much is enough?
John-John packed a suitcase with his dollar bills, a change of underwear, a toothbrush, and a photograph of his older brother, Joseph. The photograph was folded, spindled, mutilated. Joseph, the jet pilot, sat in full military dress in front of an American flag.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. —–, we regret to inform you that your son, —–, was shot down and taken prisoner by the enemy during a routine military operation. At this time, we are doing everything within our power to assure the immediate and safe release of your son.
Sincerely, they said.
John-John remembered the world before, remembered the four walls and one window of the HUD house on the reservation. So, most Indians had no job and they counted change to buy the next bottle of wine. Maybe the wells went dry every summer and maybe any water still left was too radioactive to drink.
“Uranium has a half-life of one hundred thirty-five million years,” somebody told Joseph, and he said, “Shit, I can tell you stories that will last longer than that.”
Then, there was music.
Joseph sang in a voice so pure even the drunkest Indians threw their bottles down. He sang in a voice so sharp even the oldest Indians could hear him dearly. He sang in a voice so deep even the whitest Indians remembered the words.
Sometimes, he danced.
Joseph had big feet and he stumbled, often lost the rhythm of drums. But he smiled and picked himself up from the ground after he fell. He whistled. He slapped his thighs. He crow-hopped and sprained his ankle. He danced.
Joseph paid the rent.
After Joseph was taken prisoner of war, John-John waited at the window for years. He ate and drank at that window; he slept with his eyes open. John-John’s friends grew up, graduated or dropped out of school, married, had children, got drunk too much, but he stood there at the window and waited.
John-John remembered: the sky and ground disappeared into the horizon, that imaginary line forever rolling away. Snow. Ice. Cold wind. Joseph in blue parka and military surplus boots. After Christmas but before New Year’s Eve. Everyone was sober. Standing in some anonymous field while his Chevy sat a few feet away on the other side of a fence, Joseph raised his arms and said, Someday, the world will be mine. Maybe he just said, Goddamn, I need a drink. Joseph had already dug through the ashtray, in the glove compartment, under seats. There was no money left in the world. Not even loose coins. We ain’t got gas and I’m out of miracles, Joseph said and walked fifteen miles for help.
Now, John-John stood on the front porch with his suitcase, a key hanging on a string around his neck. No lock, no door. The key was just a small mystery. It didn’t fit any lock on the reservation. Maybe it opened a garage door in Seattle; maybe it started a car in Spokane.
John-John watched the sky for signs, read the sun for the correct time, and checked his watch to be sure. It’s time to go, he thought just as the jet ripped through the sound barrier and shook the air. John-John tumbled down the stairs, landed on his tailbone. He stood up, rubbed his ass, and searched the sky for evidence. He could see vapor trails stretched across the sky.
John-John ran for the football field, down the reservation high-way, three miles of smooth, smooth pavement. It happens that way: the tribe had a government grant to fix the roads but half the Indians on the reservation still lived on commodities. But John-John ran until his chest hurt and legs trembled. He ran to the ends of the highway and stared back toward his house, at the jet approaching, then landing with a concussion of noise.
The jet taxied down the highway, turbines slowing, and came to a stop a few feet from John-John. Power. Heat. Noise. It all felt and sounded like possibilities; it was the machinery of dreams. John-John stared at the jet until it grew beyond his vision. His eyes watered, ached. He rubbed at them with fists until they grew out of proportion. Minutes went by until the jet was silent in the silence its arrival created.
Has Christopher Columbus come back?
John-John walked toward the jet, slowly, carefully. His steps were measured and precise. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. A balance beam is only four inches wide; the reservation is only half that width. John-John reached out and touched the jet with a fingertip. Hot and cold. He jumped back as the cockpit opened and a voice called out.
“Sir, ace jet pilot Joseph Victor, code name Geronimo, reporting for duty, sir!”
A tall man climbed down from the cockpit and stood at attention. His unbraided hair fell out from under his flight helmet, reached down to the small of his back. The tall man saluted John-John then wheeled and saluted the crowd of Indians quickly gathering. He turned back to John-John.
“Sir, may I have permission to remove my helmet, sir?”
John-John was stunned. He raised his arm in a half-salute, the heels of his tennis shoes clicked together.
“Joseph, is that you?”
“Sir, yes, sir. May I please remove my helmet, sir?”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
Joseph removed his helmet, leaned it against a hip, still at attention. His face was scarred, battered. The purple scar between his eyes was shaped like a cigar butt; the symmetrical scars up and down his cheeks looked like gills.
“Joseph, your face. What happened?”
John-John moved doser to his brother, reached out and touched the scars, the skin. Hot and cold. Both close to tears.
“Sir, it’s been a long and glorious war but I am happy to be home, sir.”
“But, your face. What did they do to you?”
“Sir, I am proud to say I withstood their tortures with courage and strength. I only gave them my name, rank, and serial number, sir.”
John-John cried then, took his brother’s hand. Swollen and scratched, Joseph’s hand felt like fear and failure. He had lost his left ring finger, his nails were torn, some missing altogether. Crude initials were carved into his palms.
“Joseph, don’t you recognize me? It’s your brother, John-John.”
Joseph stared at his brother intently, searched his memory. He saw those eyes curved like a bow, colored like the center of the earth; that hair short and still untamed, black; that mouth, too small for the face, those teeth yellowed and healthy; those hands, that hand now holding his, so long and forgiving, skin like a woman’s.
Who are you? Who are you?
“Sir, I don’t remember. I’m sorry. I just don’t remember, sir.”
Memory, like a coin trick, like the French drop with one hand passing over the other, quarter dropping into sight, then out of existence. It was there! It was there! The little Indian boys screaming at the sudden recognition of their first metaphor. Memory like an abandoned car, rusting and forgotten though it sits in plain view for decades. Dogs have litters there; generations of spiders live a terrible history. All of it goes unnoticed and no one bothers to tell the story.
This is not the story John-John tells himself just before he falls asleep. In his story, Joseph comes back on a bus, on a train, hitchhiking. In his story, Joseph’s feet never leave the ground again. But that kind of vision is costly; it rips sweat from John-John’s sleep and skin. He wakes up with a thirst so large that nothing can be forgiven. He wakes up with the sound of Joseph’s voice in his nose. Reverberation.
“Hey, John-John, why do you got two first names?”
“Cuz you have to say anything twice to make it true?”
“No, that ain’t it.”
“Cuz our parents really meant it when they named me?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Maybe it’s just a memory device.”
Joseph sitting at the kitchen table as they replay this conversation, this way of greeting, each day. Ever since John-John could form a sentence, Joseph began the morning with the same question.
“Hey, John-John, why do you got two first names?”
“Cuz I’m supposed to be twins?”
“No, man, that’s too easy.”
“Cuz mother always had a stutter?”
Laughter. Then, more laughter. Then, coffee and buttered toast. Sometimes, a day-old donut. The sun came in through the windows. It was there, just as much as the tablecloth or the salt and pepper shakers.
Hey, John-John, why do you got two first names?
Now, John-John waiting at the window. Watching. Telling the glass his stories, whispering to the pane, his breath fogging the world. His house, his family’s house, closed in all around him. Too many photographs. Too many stray papers and tattered magazines. The carpet has fleas.
There have been smaller disasters.
Mother and father, sister and sister, rush, rush. Fumigate, bleach and vinegar in the laundry, old blankets driven to the dump. The dog, lonely and confused, chained to a spare tire in the yard.
“John-John,” his mother says. “You have to leave. I mean, we all have to leave the house for a few hours. It’ll be toxic for a while, you know?”
He is dragged from the window, sat down beside the dog on the lawn. They both howl.
Once, John-John dreamed of flight. He imagined a crazed run into the forest, into the pine. Maybe then they would search for him, search for Joseph out there in the dark. John-John wanted to build fires with no flame or smoke. He wanted to hide in the brush while searchers walked by, inches away, calling out his name. He wanted helicopters with spotlights, all-terrain vehicles, the local news. Together, they would lift stones and find Joseph; they would shake trees and Joseph would fall to the ground; they would drink Joseph from their canteens; they would take photographs of Joseph crawling like a bear across snow, stunned by winter. The rescue team would find John-John and Joseph huddled together like old men, like children, like small birds tensing their bodies for flight.
John-John sits at his window. Waits. Watches. His face touches the glass. Hot and cold. His eyes follow the vapor trails that appear in the reservation sky. They are ordinary and magical.
Next time, John-John thinks. Next time, it will be Joseph.
Maybe it is winter again. Maybe it is just summer disguised. There is no one left to notice. Dust. Cold wind. Noise. John-John hears it all in his head. He counts his dollar bills, one, two three, all the way up to ten before he starts again. He waits; he watches.
He wants to escape.
By SHERMAN ALEXIE