Because I’m Indian in Tallahassee Florida the girl behind the
counter feels compelled to pull the leather strap ($1.19 per foot)
around her neck, show me her medicine pouch, how authentic it
is. “Yeah,” I say, “hmm,” and don’t tell her about the one-act play
I’m writing, about this Indian in the gift shop at the bottom of
Carlsbad Caverns. His name isn’t Curio but that’s what the lady
calls him when she sighs into line with her Germanic accent and
her Karl May childhood. “You should do a rain dance or something,”
she tells him, she’s never seen heat like this, like New
Mexico. In the play she’s sweating, he’s sweating, and there’s uncounted
tons of rock above them, all this pressure.
In Tallahassee it rained all the time.
I stayed there for eleven months, nineteen days, and six hours.
Because I’m Indian at a party in Little Rock Arkansas, a group
of students approaches me out of a back room of the house, ceremony still thick on their breath. In a shy voice their leader asks me what kind of animal my spirit helper is, and when I can’t quite get enough tact into my mouth to answer, they make a show of respect, say they understand if I can’t tell them, really. They tell me theirs, though: a grasshopper, a dragonfly, three wolves, and somewhere in there I become that tall, silent Indian in Thomas Pynchon’s “Mortality and Mercy in Vienna,” right before he goes cannibalistic in the middle of an otherwise happening party.
The working title of the play I’m still writing is The Time That Indian Started Killing Everybody and standing there with my beer I don’t revise it.
In Little Rock there were all kinds of bugs I hadn’t seen
I stayed there for five months, four days, and twenty-two
Because I’m Indian in Odessa Texas the guy who picks me up off
the side of the road asks me what kind. He’s an oilfield worker.
His dashboard is black with it. When I say Blackfeet he finishes
for me with Montana, says yeah, he drilled up there for a while.
Cold as hell. “Yeah,” I say, thinking this is going to be an all right
ride. He drives and tells me how when he was up there he used
to ride a helicopter to the rig every morning, it was that cold. In
trade I tell him how the National Guard had to airlift hay and
supplies a couple of winters back. He nods as if this is all coming
back to him, and then, with both arms draped over the wheel
real casual, asks me if they still run over Indians up there? I turn
to him and he explains the sport, even hangs a tire into the ditch
to show me how it’s done.
In Odessa the butane pumps go all night, and it’s hard to
I stayed there for three months, fourteen days, and fourteen
Because I’m Indian the guys at the warehouse in Clovis New Mexico
add a single feather to the happy face that’s been carved into
the back of my locker ever since I got there. It’s not like looking
in a mirror. Every time it’s not like looking in a mirror. My second
week there we’re sweeping rat droppings into huge piles, and
when I lean over one to see what Butch is pointing at he slams
his broom down, drives it all into my face. That weekend I start
coughing it all up, become sure it’s the hantavirus that’s been
bleed into me killing Indians all over.
My whole check goes into the pay phone,
calling everyone, talking to them one last time, reading them my
play, the part where Curio kills one of the gift-shop people the old
way, which means he hits him across the face with a log of Copenhagen,
then follows him down to finish it, out of mercy.
In Clovis they don’t turn their trucks off so you can talk on
the phone, so you have to scream.
I stayed there for four weeks, one day, and two and a half
Because I’m Indian in Carlsbad New Mexico the crew I’m working
with calls me Chief, motions me over every time there’s another
animal track in the dirt. “I don’t know,” I tell them about
the tracks, even though I do, and for a couple of hours we work
in silence, up one row, down another. Once I find strange and
cartoonish tracks in my row—traced with the sharp corner of
a hoe—but I pretend to miss them, pretend no one’s watching
me miss them. All this pretending. Towards the end of the day
I pass one of the crew and, without looking up, he asks if I’ve
scalped anybody today, Chief? I unplant a weed from his row,
look up for the briefest moment, long enough to say it: “Nobody
you know.” He doesn’t laugh, and neither do I, and then later that
night in a gas station I finish the play I started writing in Florida.
It starts when the clerk wipes the sweat from his forehead,
says how damn hot it is. And dry. I neither nod nor don’t nod,
just wait for him to say it.
In Carlsbad New Mexico the law is sluggish, slow to respond.
I stay there for sixteen hours, nine minutes, and fifty-two seconds,
and when the rain comes it’s not because I danced it up,
but because I brought it with me.