What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned by Sherman Alexie

Paperback, 156 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Hanging Loose Press
Source: Library

Sherman Alexie is better known for his amazing novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian but just as popular among the older set are his poems. I managed to hunt down and read What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned and oh my goodness, you guys, I was blown away.

The Native American Dictionary, Page 1

Indian giver n. Popularly thought of as an Indian who gives and then takes back, but actually someone (usually a Caucasian male) who gives to Indians and then steals it back.

Survival n. Holy, holy, holy, cousin, that’s just what Indians do.

This collection is bold, unapologetic, irreverent and finds a million different ways to my heart. Alexie’s poems are like conversations with him. Of course, more often you are listening but gosh, dangit, the brilliant way he tells you things will leave you thinking.

There’s no sense of technique or artificially constructed stanzas even though there may be. It felt like Alexie broke down the barriers and gave it to you straight whether you want to admit or accept it or not. The experiences of a Native American man who does not speak for all Native American people but for himself.

Family Memoir

We carried the furniture out of the burning house–
it was a blistered-finger chore–
And then hurried all of the chairs, sofas and beds
into the burning house next door.

This is not to imply there are no poems that are beautiful in the lyrical sense.

“God is a siren screaming toward a house on fire.
Lives will be saved by water cannons, not with silence.

If there is anything I disagree with, it would be this verse:

“You want to know who really threatens my marriage? Who threatens any straight man’s marriage? Beautiful straight women with no boundaries.”

This posits women as the lone guilty party thus perpetuating the idea that women are the temptresses who lure innocent men from straight paths. This is dangerously close to the rhetoric of rape culture and not something I thought I would find in this book.

I had to mention this because I couldn’t not. This is something so internalized and ingrained in culture that good people can repeat without realizing they are doing so. I just think it’s good to be aware of things.

The collection also includes poems that deal with grief and grieving. The collection is accessible even to people who don’t usually read poetry because as I said each poem is like a conversation. I do recommend it strongly.

Aware, Unaware

Be quick now and pull to the roadside
Because bad drivers don’t know they are bad drivers
And the architects of genocide
Always think of themselves as survivors.

Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October 1966. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, WA. Alexie has published 18 books to date.
Alexie is an award-winning and prolific author and occasional comedian. Much of his writing draws on his experiences as a modern Native American. Sherman’s best known works include The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Smoke Signals, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. He lives in Seattle, Washington.