for PN and Sherman Alexie
There’s this student,
in my classroom,
too cool for school.
Vernon reads because The Absolutely
True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
circles hoops around his adolescent brain
toppling his first weeks of school
I don’t “read”itude.
Gathering his ancestors,
words channel compassion,
weaving threads into familiarity,
weaving familiarity into a yearning to read more words.
Forgiveness hovers beneath
trails of tears, and treaties.
Every sign points toward his schooling’s demise,
when Vernon opens books to causes
beyond the intentional negligence of an educational system
that stripped his grandparents
of everything they’d never be again.
His eyes rise from Junior’s story
when RJ, this toppled white kid ,
enters late. Broken by years of hallway ridicule,
broken by a family that you do not want to know,
RJ’s eyes scan the classroom,
it’s a “free seating” day
and a pretty seventh grade girl occupies
his eighth grade seat.
With palpable anxiety he stops and
drops his eyes to his feet.
I move to get up,
when Vernon’s voice rises
deep and gentle, above his book,
“Hey, buddy, sit here,”
he pulls back the chair next to his own.
Blinking tears down into the shallows
of my lower lids, my eyes return
to the book I am reading in class,
thinking of the power of story,
thinking of the power of connection,
thinking of the power Vernon gave RJ,
shouldering his angst,
offering him a Friday home.
Vernon is a hero.
He eats up The Absolutely
True Diary of a Part Time Indian,
deepening his understanding
of what it means to not fit in.
Like Junior, no matter which direction
RJ turns, bolts of misunderstanding
burst in other people’s eyes.
He knows it is true.
RJ draws bold dark lines through the pages
of his classroom journal,
while Vernon keeps Junior’s story
quietly to himself.
Chuckling every now and then,
Vernon’s dark eyes shine.
Brenda Warren 2011
I pulled the words for this week’s wordle from The Powwow at the End of the World, by Sherman Alexie. Visit The Sunday Whirl for more pieces that integrate Alexie’s words.
One of my students who claimed to never read, is reading Sherman Alexie’sThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. We discussed the book’s mature content, and my expectation that he not point out inappropriate parts to other kids during his reading. I also phoned home to get parental permission for him to read it, because the content is mature. It is a story that Native American kids “get.” They love it. Many of my Blackfoot, Chippewa, and Cree students move back and forth between the reservation schools, and our school. The book’s narrator, Arnold Spirit aka Junior moves to an all white school, so the connection is strong, and Alexie is hilarious.
I wrote the first draft of this piece last night, and then watched Smoke Signals. Alexie wrote the screenplay for Smoke Signals. He based it on stories in his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. The movie is on Netflix. It is hysterical, heartbreaking, and liberating, and the soundtrack is memorable. One of the main characters, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, reminds me of Junior in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. I woke up this morning, and read The Powwow at the End of the World aloud, trying to channel the lilt of Thomas’s incessant storytelling in my reading. After reading it, I revised this piece, and added to it to tackle that wordle list. Finally I changed the names to protect my students’ identities.
Mr. Alexie, if you happen across these words, thank you. Your writer’s voice turns young people into readers. Face keeps me returning to its pages again and again, I love volcano and its mosquito armageddon. 🙂