Ajax Bell

Author of the Queen City Boys books

An open letter to Sherman Alexie

3 Comments

Just read a line in a Sherman Alexie story about standing in line at Bartell’s and suddenly I’m so homesick I’m not sure I can live through the heartbreak of it. In my head I ask Sherman Alexie if he imagines how many of his throw away lines profoundly affect people?  I think of every word I’ve put out there, every bit of fiction I’ve written, and no one has ever come back to me with the important words, with the phrases that I labored over, they only come to tell me about the how they were moved by my fast lines, the ones that drop out, that I don’t consider at all before I put them to paper.

Perhaps the lines I don’t labor over mean the most, come more truly from me?  Perhaps there is no meaning in any of it and will just keeping spilling out words, looking for the turn of phrase that will free my soul and find it someday.  Perhaps Sherman Alexie labored over that line and still will never know will never know how his two sentences made me break my own heart.  I could write him a letter and tell him, but I would labor too hard over the words, I would lose the importance of sharing what he gave me.  I have always been writing this letter to him in my head, through out the years, every time I read his stories and poems.  A letter that never makes it to paper, to computer screen, never achieves more than some small form of therapy for me.

I am talking to Sherman in my head (can I call you, Sherman, I feel we are close enough now) about my homesickness, about how I cannot ever really understand where he is from and he cannot understand how I am from where he is now.  I tell him it is a continuum that no one but me can see, a story that can’t quite be told, but is important all the same.  And the The Butchies pop up on shuffle on the old mp3 player and I start to cry because this is more homesickness than a soul can bear.  But this makes me get up and start to cook dinner: fettuccine alfredo with smoked salmon (real, PNW smoked salmon), peas and caramelized onions.  Because I am homesick and if I lived close enough that I could call my mom and ask if I could come over she would walk to me to a restaurant near her house (one Sherman Alexie has surely been too) and I would order some variation of this dish because you don’t really find it anywhere else in the world, not the way we make it in Seattle.

And while I am chopping onions the mp3 player turns again and gives me Kevin Gordon singing Watching the Sun Go Down, and I remember how I stopped at 6:42 am, on my way to work, to photograph the sunrise over an electrical power station, and got distracted by some horses too.  I think of how the redbuds are surely more beautiful this year than they have ever been before, blooming riotously, everywhere, making the edges of every roadway glow purple.  I think of how  the heat in Tennessee makes me feel warm all the way through to my bones, like I’ve never been warm before.

So I tell Sherman that he is lucky indeed, to be able wait in line at Bartell’s, but he has to go through cold rain to get there and I am saved by the sun  and the green in spring and the sounds, all the sounds, here in the dirty South.  Perhaps I am homesick for a place that no longer exists.  A place I visited, moved through in childhood, that is just a fairytale now, I can not go back.  My adult self does not have the magic to cross back over the boundaries of the places I’ve been before, I can only go to new places or create them myself. And I’m still crying when I sit down to eat my dinner, but not because I miss anything.  I am so lucky to have been so many places, both real and imagined. Lucky to be me and to be still so full of emotions good and bad (love) about all of those places I have been and the people in them.  Even the rude lady in the Bartell’s line that you have to tell to fuck all the way off.  So thanks, Sherman, for reminding of my home, the past one, the new one, the one that is always me and goes everywhere inside my heart.  I’m certain that you never knew that namedropping Bartell’s in a story would make some girl in Tennessee break out the fancy smoked salmon from way back home and cook herself a good dinner on a night when she would otherwise have been too tired, too worn down by work, to do more than make a quesadilla.  Thanks for dinner, Sherman, I really feel like we are close now.

 

(Pictures taken early this morning in Tennessee, when I stopped, before I even had coffee, to remember that there is beauty in the world.  Even when you feel like you break to pieces because of the stress that swirls around you and puts the anxiety inside you, there is still the color purple and leaves that were not that green yesterday and sunrises.  The redbuds really are spectacular this year.)

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3 thoughts on “An open letter to Sherman Alexie

  1. Oh, this is lovely! And very much what I needed. I miss Washington so much … but I can see Alberta is beautiful also, as long as I’m not blinded by my own homesickness.

  2. I sometimes wonder how places can become so much a part of our being. But they can, and do, and so often in our exiles we end up missing things like the bread at our old grocery store. Interesting post.

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