Dachau Monument by Nandor Glid
This post may get me into a lot of trouble. I’ll put the link to the poem I’m reacting to at the end. No, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to put it at both the beginning and the end, and then write my post in the middle in hopes that it will change the way you read it or understand it or ignore it. Whatever it is that you do with poems.
“Hey, Look, the Abyss” is about atrocity tourism, from the point of view of the assimilated Indian that Alexie is. So many nice people claim him as their favorite author, never quite grasping that he’s trying to scalp them, though he’s got a fork instead of a knife. If I mock him, he will know it’s all part of the business he has created by convincing the rez folks he really IS an Indian. If he has indeed convinced them. Mixed evidence, as usual. He is a tribal man in a very particular way.
“Slog” is a part of “The Stranger”, a Seattle alternative newspaper that is part of the complex of alternative newspapers that seems esp. strong along the West Coast in the cities. All those “weekly” free papers like the LA Weekly that printed the key attack on Tim, presented as an unmasking of the terrible crime of using a pseudonym, which enlisted Alexie as a champion, inflating that into holocaust. (He was promoting “Smoke Signals” at the time.)
The people involved in “The Stranger” include Dan Savage who writes the sex advice column, “Savage Love.” Tim Keck was a founder (Also a founder of “The Onion”.) They take on politics, sensational murders, and snotty elitist entitlements to incendiary criticism. For instance, they had an ombudsman who raked the paper with criticism but who is suspected to be a fictional character. The whole thing is clever in-group incest that comes down to “look at me.”
People who don’t know reservations or even indigenous peoples — I’m not talking about “brown” people who have left their homelands — and think that Native American pow-wows are equivalent to ethnic festivals for Scots or Swiss, never quite realize that Alexie voluntarily left his birth home to attend a white high school because his tribal fellow students mocked and oppressed him for being a nerd, except maybe when he played basketball, which is why the white school was happy to have him. He’s provided all the evidence, but people seem to see it as a kind of ugly duckling story, entirely losing the context, which is being more or less trapped in a confining place that holds you down, where — if you try to leave — you will be slashed by your own people. Alexie left anyway.
Like many an African-American or Jewish stand-up comic, he used humor as a bitter shield and as soon as he made money, the rez people clasped him to their bosoms. So did the Alternative Press, which by now is a kind of establishment. One might argue more so than the familiar daily empires of the New York Times, the LA Times, and the Washington Post. If it weren’t for this network, a professor connected to the Village Voice could not have snagged a venue for his student at the LA Weekly that has been the lever for every attack on Barrus since and the justification for Wikipedia’s entry which is under Barrus’ pseudonym. These journalists are not truly alternative, but only the sons of the kings of a different generation.
Barrus is from a much deeper underground than “alternatives.” He has lived his holocaust, that of AIDS in SF. Alexie has never held dying men in his arms. Barrus didn’t laugh at Dachau. He understands that HIV is not cured, not gone, but travels beneath our feet like those coal seam mine fires that smoulder for centuries until they get oxygen (let’s say drugs or imprisonment) and then flare. “It is estimated that Australia's Burning Mountain, the oldest known coal fire, has burned for 6,000 years.” HIV has been in Africa for longer than that and it is growing.
I’m saying that the location of holocaust is not at any tourist attraction but continues today, detected but unacknowledged beneath our feet, often traveling through the seamy secret lives of big shot politicians who don’t want to accidentally get some girl pregnant, so soon adapt to using the endless supply of boys thrown out of their “place of origin.” (One can hardly call a drug crash pad a “home”.) Anyway, if such boys aren’t too damaged, they can be very useful, go where girls never go. The really powerful can take boys on cruises from whence they never return.
The point of Alexie’s poem is first the nice middle class people who go to gawp at gas chambers and ovens, like Medieval crowds gone to watch beheadings and eviscerations. (Poor us, we are reduced to watching terrorists do that stuff, unless you count “Game of Thrones.”) And then later he turns to his dinner companion, a very nice liberal lady with a certain amount of privilege, and discovers that she also stigmatizes — but she does it in the name of love. He's talking about the Armenian holocaust and her former husband was a Turk.
He ends his poem:
“Because the ordinary don’t commit genocide.
Because it’s only the epic monsters who commit genocide.
But that’s not true.
Who are the monsters? Well, shit, it’s me.
And you. And you. And you. And you. And you."
I’m still reading Jared Diamond, the part about war and how religion was invented to make people stop killing their friends and concentrate on killing the enemies of their government/
church. He points out that the nastiest attacks are on those who are most like us. That means Germans, the highest demographic proportion of Euros among Americans. We try to mask that with the face of the British Queen, who does not laugh. Masks do not laugh. The British Queen is actually German.
The retaliation that I fear will not be that against me, though that’s quite possible and might be harsh. It will be somewhat against Barrus, possibly Alexie, but most likely punish the boys who cannot afford to be mocked, belittled, and mistaken for the nice sons of liberal ladies. But the first step towards stigma and holocaust is always secrecy and not saying something is collaboration.
Do not suggest a meeting between these two poets so all will be explained and forgiven, Oprah-style. It won’t happen. Do you remember the clumsy female Network Morning Show hostess who invited a rape victim and the actual rapist on the show and expected that this would reassure us all? As though rape were just a misunderstanding. At the end, incredibly, she asked them to hug each other. How she managed to keep her job is beyond me.
I’m just an old woman in Montana.