This poem by Sherman Alexie appeared in Hanging Loose 56 and was reprinted in
The Business of Fancydancing, his
I’ve watched the Children of The Third World
starving on television. I’ve heard the
stand-up comic ask, “why didn’t the cameraman give that kid a fucking
sandwich?” 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 every day of my life, my mother would tell me to
“clean up your plate or your sister will get it.”
A woman writes to a man who used to live here. I write back, pretending I’m the man she’s been searching her whole life for. “Do you still love me,” she writes to ask him, and me.
I do not speak my native tongue. Except that is, for the dirty words. I can tell you what I think of you in two languages.
was the first poem of Sherman’s to appear in Hanging Loose, twenty years ago this spring, when he was still a
student. We had the good sense to ask for more immediately and that quickly led
to a request for a manuscript. The
Business of Fancydancing, his first book, was published in 1992, leading The New York Times Book Review to say
“Mr. Alexie’s is one of the major lyric voices of our time.” Not bad for a first book from a small press,
We’ve published six books of Sherman’s altogether. The newest, Face, is Small Press Distribution’s best seller of the past ten years. Of course, he’s also published an amazing number of story collections, novels and journalism, made movies, entertained countless audiences, and won many awards. I suppose that’s the reason for a question I began hearing a while back: “I guess Sherman has changed a lot over the years, huh?” They don’t mean “I guess Sherman doesn’t live on commodity cheese anymore.” They’re longing for me to say, “Yeah, he’s become a monster of ego, impossible to please.” When I say that’s absolutely not true, the disappointment is palpable.
The other question I hear a lot, from smirking interviewers, is “Say, how did an Indian from out West ever come to publish with a press in Brooklyn?” I’m often tempted to say he was tied to a pony and led into the fort by John Wayne, but I usually just point out that he was a college graduate and so he knew how to put stamps on an envelope.
My favorite recent question came when Sherman made his second appearance on The Colbert Report some weeks ago. Donna Brook and I accompanied him both times. We were waiting for him to show up at the studio when one of the producers walked by. “I remember you,” she said. You’re Sherman’s parents, aren’t you?” Either we’re looking more Indian or Sherman’s looking more Brooklyn or her eyes were closed.
-- Robert Hershon