- Evidence of Red: Poems and Prose
Many of us first became aware of LeAnne Howe as a satirist of the first order after reading her short story "An American in New York," anthologized by Paula Gunn Allen in 1989 in the collection Spider Woman's Granddaughters. Before that Howe was an Indian, a Choctaw to be exact, a job she has managed to hold on to until this day. I only mention this because when one is called to be a satirist this is not always easy, at least if one is good at what one does. Along with Creek writer Durango Mendoza's story "Summer Water and Shirley," which appears in Natachee Momaday's very early collection of Native American literature, titled American Indian Authors (1972), Howe's "American in New York" is one of the finest short stories in literature of the American, Native American, or any other sort.
In "An American in New York," Howe's poetic riff on America's most sacred words (all have to do with money), her depiction of Indian reoccupation of former Indian-held lands, of no holds-barred sexuality, commitment to sense of place down to the details of garbage on New York City streets, and of the nuclear meltdown of the melting pot create some of her most delicious ironies.
Readers will not be disappointed in her latest work, Evidence of [End Page 157] Red, easily as sassy, saucy, and sexy. "Naked, she goes down on us, / her flaming hair burns us brown" (7). Lines about the sun in the poem "Hashi Mi Hali," in case you are wondering.
Everything I write for SAIL is always too long (OK, everything I write for anyone is always too long), so I will limit my comments to a single piece, the prose writing "Choctalking on Other Realities," in order to get the most out of my word allotment, even though I am just as enthusiastic about other parts of the book. Like "An American in New York," "Choctalking" is a story about intersecting and competing jurisdictions, the tensions going in and out of borders, in short, disputes over who constitutes the indigenes of a given geography. What better city to illustrate this point than Jerusalem? The significance of Howe's imaginative act is an insistence that Indians have something to say about the world beyond Indian country, that Native studies is not inherently parochial, that tribally specific approaches have global implications.
Thus the title. The Otherness of "Other Realities," is alleviated to whatever degree the Choctaw narrator of the story is willing to scrutinize her relationship to the rest of the world. Imagining Jerusalem in relation to Choctaws might be seen by some as a largely romantic act. Such a vision is not idealized in the story, however. In fact, it is most contentious. A Jewish resident of the city tells the narrator her great-grandmother was Cherokee, yet neither narrator nor Jerusalemite is able to agree on the terms of Indian or Middle Eastern history. It is not a warm and fuzzy story about overcoming cultural differences.
Add to this complexity Howe's movement in and out of spatial and temporal frames—from the restaurant at Will Rogers "International" airport where the narrator was waitressing in 1970, which became its own entry point into battle as young men left for boot camp and beyond (the "beyond," of course, being Southeast Asia) to the narrator's return to the streets of Jerusalem, culminating in a 1992 Palestinian protest she witnesses that ends in violence. Somewhere in there she's also back in Bethany, Oklahoma, as a school girl who sings "Jesus Loves the Little Children" the wrong way and has to run for her life. This is one part of the story no Oklahoman will read as metaphorical. [End Page 158]
Howe has a knack for resurrecting characters in multiple time frames as we know from her other creative works. The characters in "Choctalking" resist straightforward reenactments of previous lives, becoming something different each time they surface in a new time...