Monday, February 6, 2012

Here's to the Big Dogs with Turtles for Feet!

First Indian on the Moon
Once again, Sherman Alexie addresses the stereotypes associated with Indians. Before reading another one of Alexie’s collection of poetry, I wondered if he made allusions to animals. I wanted to concentrate specifically on the horse, curious to see if he would reference them more often than Crazy Horse. He didn’t allude to horses more than Crazy Horse, but he did allude to them frequently.
Because one of the biggest stereotypes among Indians is that they all come from tribes of great horsemen, I didn’t find it surprising that the animal Alexie referred to the most was a horse. So, even though the horses in Alexie’s poems are figurative, he gives us a real visual of a horse that feeds the stereotype, yet proves a point at the same time. “If you put your ear really close to a buzzing beer sign hanging in the window of the Powwow Tavern, you can hear horses thundering, you can hear rifles, you can hear a cavalry sword leaving its scabbard.” (39) Sherman Alexie refers to real horses in the past during the Western expansion of the U.S. To me, his reference suggests that Indians drink because of the past, and no matter how much they drink, the past will never die. I  imagine a man so wasted he is puking outside of a tavern, not hearing a word his girlfriend is yelling at him, but hallucinating that the buzzing noise from the neon sign is screaming bloodshed and thundering hooves.

I found this video of horses to listen to the pounding of hooves.
                Horses are also alluded to through sight. More specifically and ironically, it is in the reflection of an Indian man. “The faces I see in my mirror look the same: U.S. Government glasses, fractured nose, braids like wild ponies, eyes like mine and his and his and yours.” (50) Another irony is the simile between combed braids and wild horse hair. Wild horse hair is matted and full of knots while braids are smooth, organized, and hang in place.
These pictures show hair side by side.

Maybe the Indian man had messy hair that he forced into a braid to deceive onlookers into thinking he has pulled himself together when he is actually falling apart. Horses reappear as a visual in Alexie’s next allusion. “I would close my eyes and dream of something strong, dream of horses exploding, rising into the air, their hearts beating survive, survive, survive.” (51) This quote is linked with the last because Alexie has established Indians are like horses. In my opinion, Alexie is comparing exploding horses to Indians to describe the feeling of survival. What happens to a creature that has been destroyed but can still feel the remains of a beating heart? To me, this spells depression that will continue to be bred into further generations of Native Americans.
                Horses are not only representations of Indians, but are a creation of Indians as well. “Believe me, the Indian men are rising from the alleys and doorways, rising from self-hatred and self-pity, rising up on horses of their own making.” (108) All of the struggles, hardships, and racism Indians have faced can be escaped on imaginary horses they are building. This connection to the past is evident through the fact that the Indians escaped and avoided the first cowboys on horseback, but this time Indians are running away from a different enemy, themselves; which can be the scariest experience one can go through. They create something beautiful from something horrifying.
I typed "something horrible into something beautiful" and found this ironically, with horses in it.

                Finally, and regrettably, the last allusion to horses I found confused me because its implied uselessness is overwhelming. “…give him a blind horse/ who isn’t afraid of trees/ give him a car without breaks or a steering wheel/ give him a ticket to the symphony and tell him all the flutes are snakes…Baby, come make me promises, tell me/ you’ll love me as long as/ the winds blow/ the grasses grow/ the rivers flow.” (87) Even though promises of love are lies, the man is asking for them anyway. A promise of love is like a blind horse unafraid of trees. Again I see a horse personified as an Indian. Alexie’s character is in love with a paradoxical girl, a horse who doesn’t shudder at foreign objects.
                Alexie addresses a stereotype to make a point: horses are beautiful, powerful, and timid creatures that can represent a beautiful, powerful, and timid nation of people, Native Americans. I am reminded of the story I was told about how Indians first discovered horses. A flood was fast approaching, and would have wiped out many tribes. The chiefs all gathered to pray for safe passage to a mountain. The heavens sent them horses, or as they called them, big dogs with turtles strapped to their feet. The horses were able to carry every man, woman, and child to safety while hauling their food, shelter, and tools. Ever since, the horse has been remembered as a blessing. This is how I view the American Indians. Their heritage has been a blessing to learn and appreciate during my academic career.

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