Poetry Appreciation: ‘Evolution’ by Sherman Alexie

This post is a part of my ‘Poetry Appreciation’ segment wherein every once in a while I share a poem that I like. Today I’ve chosen Sherman Alexie’s ‘Evolution’.

About Sherman Alexie: Sherman Alexie is a Native American poet, novelist, short-story writer, and filmmaker. He is a Spokane/ Coeur d’Alene tribal member and grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. His writings draw from his life as an indigenous American and evoke a sense of not only sadness and indignation, but also compassion.

About ‘Evolution’: ‘Evolution’ is a part of the collection called The Business of Fancy Dancing (1992). The title is meant to point towards the social Darwinism of the American capitalist society and how it continues to decimate the Native Americans. Alexie highlights the systematic racism and how it confines the indigenous people into a life of deprivation. It also uses the figure of ‘Buffalo Bill’, based on the figure of William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917), and recasts him as a twenty-first-century businessman. This fictional ‘Buffalo Bill’, just like the historical ‘Buffalo bill’, builds his life on the foundation of exploitation of the Natives and thrives while the natives continue to lose their belongings and heritage and are pushed further and further into a state of desperation and despair. The poem ends on an ironical note that shows how the indigenous populations are reduced to a museum piece at the cost of the living members of the community.

Evolution

By: Sherman Alexie

Buffalo Bill opens a pawn shop on the reservation
right across the border from the liquor store
and he stays open 24 hours a day,7 days a week

and the Indians come running in with jewelry
television sets, a VCR, a full-lenght beaded buckskin outfit
it took Inez Muse 12 years to finish. Buffalo Bill

takes everything the Indians have to offer, keeps it
all catalogues and filed in a storage room. The Indians
pawn their hands, saving the thumbs for last, they pawn

their skeletons, falling endlessly from the skin
and when the last Indian has pawned everything
but his heart, Buffalo Bill takes that for twenty bucks

closes up the pawn shop, paints a new sign over the old
calls his venture THE MUSEUM OF NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURES
charges the Indians five bucks a head to enter.

***

What do you think of the poem? And is there any poem that you would like to recommend?

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