Author's signed presentation copy to the Golda Meir Library. This collection of essays should not be confused with a fine press edition published under the same title in 1994, which may be described as a series of reveries on movement and stillness, the past and the present, and the survival of memory in the winter of history.
In the 1997 edition of The West Pole, Glancy confronts more self-consciously than she has before the use of writing in shaping experience, in creating history, and in forging identifications with others. She explains that the book "is about the expanding and differing definitions of the term [story]. It's about culture and our struggle to survive both personal and historic desolation." The book is a meditation on "the making of story." It brings together photographs and previously published writings-parts of lectures, reviews, chapters from other works, poems, analytical essays, autobiography-in order to retell the story of a personal journey.
"WHO CAN SPEAK AS AN INDIAN?"
The issue makes me squirm. My great-grandfather was Cherokee. My grandmother probably half. My father a fourth. Me an eighth. I could be more but I'm not sure.
But what part's Indian? My feet? My hands?
No--I think it's a voice in my chest. I hear it among the other voices. Late at night when the dish of scraps is set out back. Under the heavy trees in the distance where we used to drive to Arkansas. Not many times, but enough.
The Indian voice speaks with my hands. I guess it's my pencil that's Indian. And didn't my red school tablet say Big Chief?
It was Sequoyah who made the Cherokee syllabary so the people could write. Working with the alphabet is like driving a car. I get transported to a lot of places. My broken voice rides a broken vehicle. I use a mixed-story format. I assimilate "story." . . .
How many heritages do I draw from? Even my last name is something I am not. It belongs to an Irishman I was married to.
But isn't "fragment" the tune of the day? Are all Indians Dakota? Are all Cheyenne? Are all full-bloods? Are all traditional or assimilated? Can we walk together even in the same family?
And how about the Christianity the family was converted to? How many tribes in it? For some, you have to be a member of their denomination to go to heaven. For others, you have to accept Christ as savior and be born again. For still others, you have only the fellowship of the congregation and the example of Jesus you should try to follow. There are other possibilities. I sometimes think of Jesus as a living spirit, a story, in other words. To give strength and re-formation along the migration trail.
Which ensures, at least, I have words when I have nothing else.
From The West Pole (1997). Used with permission of the author.
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