cover image The Summer of Black Widows

The Summer of Black Widows

Rudolf Steiner, Sherman Alexie. Hanging Loose Press, $15 (140pp) ISBN 978-1-882413-34-8

For prolific poet and novelist Alexie (First Indian on the Moon), ""Indian"" culture is not a frozen set-piece, but a field of vital, co-mingling influences that includes playing basketball, watching for Sasquatch or admiring Fred Astaire. His cultural pantheon is apparent in the sixth of seven ""Totem Sonnets"": ""Lenny/ Edgar Bearchild/ Holden Caulfield/ Tess// The Misfit/ Sula/ Mazie/ Tayo// Cacciato/ Cecelina Capture/ Hamlet/ Jim Loney// Daredevil/ The Incredible Hulk."" Moving among sites of personal and historical tragedy, as well as joy (the Spokane reservation in Washington State, Brooklyn's F Train, Dachau), the first-person speaker of these poems is shadowed by remembrance and loss: ""On the top of Wellpinit mountain, I watch for fires, listen to a radio powered by the ghosts of 1,000 horses, shot by the United States Cavalry a century ago, last week, yesterday."" While lacking the raffish elegance of Frank O'Hara (though engaging elegies for James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are included here) and with the acknowledged influence of Ted Berrigan, Alexie, at his best, opens to us the complexity and contradiction of a contemporary multicultural identity. Repeatedly invoking the liar paradox (perhaps because ""Indians... don't believe in autobiography""), Alexie poses a question for all of us: ""Do these confused prayers mean/ we'll live on another reservation/ in that country called Heaven?"" (Oct.)