When I started reading The Business of Fancydancing, I expected racism, alcohol abuse, even the feeling of emptyness, but nothing could have possibly prepared me for the degree to which Indians are poor.
"'Hey, Dad, we ain't got any food left.' 'What's in your hand?' 'Just two slices of bread.' 'Well, you can have a jam sandwhich, enit?'" (13)
At first I imagined what a sandwhich would taste like with only jam in the middle...disgusting. What a lazy way of making toast, or half of a pb&j.
"'What's that?' 'You just take two slices of bread and jam them together.' Willie laughed loudest and looked back at me." (13)
I laughed too. I laughed so hard that my eyes started to water, and I could barely read the next sentence.
"'You can have a wish sandwhich, too,' Willie said. "All the time you're eating, you wish there was something in your sandwhich.'" (13)
Then, the water rolling down my cheeks formed real tears; I cried at the first page. Even though the story is fictional, I know that the situation is real. I remembered the photographs that Reel Injun presented of reservation Indians without food, hot water, or a home.
"Then, the blue van shuddered, the headlights went dim, out, and the van stopped dark in the endless night. 'What the hell is it?' 'Out of gas.' 'Shit, we're going to have to push it home.'... I turned back to the van, put my shoulder to the cold metal and waited for something to change." (15)
Again I felt hopelessness. I can't give the boy a proper sandwhich or start the "res car."
"I cut myself into sixteen equal pieces/ keep thirteen and feed the other three/ to the dogs, who have also grown/ tired of U.S. Commodities,..." (16)
Sherman Alexie always confounds me when he says something two ways in one sentence. He directly insinuates that Indians can only afford groceries through the government, but he suggests the method of payment is through the fractions of race in your blood. If his father is a full-blood Indian (8/8) and his mother is 5/8 Indian, he is left with 13/16 Indian blood. (8/8 + 5/8 = 13/16) To feed the dogs, the boy must feed them his white blood, the only blood worth money. Then he will be a full-blooded dirt poor Indian.
"I know all the mothers of America have told their kids: 'Clean up your plate. There are people starving in India.' When I was young, living on the reservation, eating potatoes everyday of my life, my mother would tell me to 'clean up your plate or your sister will get it.'" (18)
I grew up learning about starvation in third world countries. My mother used to tell me, "Eat your vegetables. There are starving children in Africa."
"I wept/ dimes into quarters and made a living/ on the corners." (32)
Yes, they survived on chump change and by cutting corners, or sacrificing common luxuries we take for granted everyday, but Alexie states another method of surviving. Through love, people can bare suffering because misery loves company.
"We raised our arms to the wind, silently/ my mouth was surrounded with words/ I could never speak/ alone. We had come together/ to call this space arched in our backs home." (33)
I honestly wondered if Alexie had experienced this sense of loss and comfort with a woman. The poem is dedicated to Kari. Who is Kari? I can't find anything on her.
"No one ever had no job/ but we could always eat/ commodity cheese and beef/ and Mom sold her quilts/ for fifty bucks each to whites/ driving in from Spokane/ to buy illegal fireworks." (35)
I laughed so hard after reading this because I know for a fact that my mother and I would pay 100 dollars for a gen-u-ine American Indian quilt. It would feel like being wrapped in a museum! I am curious as to whether Indians recieve more that just commodity cans from the government, more specifically, i wonder if they recieve health benefits.
"He smiles at his own joke. He has Indian teeth." (81)
What do Indian teeth look like?
Either way, Sherman Alexie once again made me laugh, made me cry, and made me want to watch his movies.