cover image Old Shirts & New Skins

Old Shirts & New Skins

Sherman Alexie. American Indian Studies Center University Ang, $12 (94pp) ISBN 978-0-935626-36-0

Alexie ( The Business of Fancydancing ) here emerges as a Native poet of the first order. He captures the full range of modern Native experience, writing both with anger and with great affection and humor. Detailing the continuing deprivation and colonialism, the poet pointedly asks, ``Am I the garbageman of your dreams?'' and defines Native ``economics'': ``risk'' is playing poker with cash and then passing out at powwow. Focusing on the Leonard Peltier case, Alexie exposes the ineffectualness of both white Indian-lovers and some Native leaders in ``The Marlon Brando Memorial Swimming Pool'': ``Peltier goes blind in Leavenworth . . . / and Brando sits, fat and naked, by the Pacific ocean. There was never / any water in the damn thing. '' General Custer is allowed to give an accounting of himself, as Alexie links genocide of America's indigenous peoples with Vietnam, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and other acts of warfare and destruction. Alexie writes comfortably in a variety of styles. Many of the poems turn on grim irony, putting the author himself in the traditional role of the trickster. Adrian Louis provides a powerful foreword, and Elizabeth Woody's moody illustrations add to the volume's impact. (Mar.)