Electric Review

Culture & Criticism Since 2003

Faces From Indian Country

Original watercolor by Eric Ward, © 2021. All rights reserved.


Highway 89 at Pilgrim Creek Road: The truck stops and the Indian turns the engine off. He moves slowly from the vehicle and watches as the eagle tears into the young deer’s warm flesh. Blood sprays into the air in crimson streaks each time the bird twirls its head and rips at the knots of meat. The old man’s transfixed – his eyes drink in the scene over the rotting gray fence posts of some abandoned cattle pasture. He does not blink. He just leans back onto the bumper of the truck and watches (as does the little boy from inside the cab of the dented old pick-up).


The old man speaks to himself in a parched white whisper caked with rattlesnake venom and burnt motor oil; the sound of his voice echoes against the half-frozen ground rolling down the muddy shoulder of the road:

‘The spirit of our mothers goes back…It goes back…unto fire in the shape of New Wind….’


The little boy stares through the windshield. His eyes flicker and glow, fixed on the shape of God in the mists of the distance. In his mind ghosts cackle at dragons with wounded wings. In his mind an endless tangle of echoes (fingers) inside the mouths of old memory (twist) dead bones (in) to soft golden roses. The little boy stares through the windshield and ghosts cackle at shadows passing into the thick purple bruises of dusk (this voice) rising soundless in the wind:


“My father, he’d sit there at the head of the table with his hands folded and grunt and expect the silence to answer. But who could blame him? He’s True Blood – from a different time, a very different world –  a world of invisible stages, a world built on silk bones of nothingness. Who could blame him for what he did and didn’t do? My mother died giving birth to me. And he just sat there at the head of the table with his hands folded in prayer. He didn’t know what to say. Now I imagine there’s no escape from the hollow ache of words that you cannot hear. But still, you just can’t blame a man for not knowing…”

Chapter 2

Scenes In the Mirror (Indian Country At Dawn)


We see a man riding a small horse. The man is very large and heavy, and he makes no attempt to hide his weariness. His bulk dwarfs the horse as he moves into the rugged mouth of the canyon. Hummingbirds play over clefts of icy dry granite (the) rocky cups (now) filled to the brim with diamond pools of water. Hawks sweep in pairs overhead and protectively watch the man’s passage into the cool timber of dawn. The man: His name is Peter Crow and now we can hear his voice (grading) the clouds into crystal-clear chambers of mist:**

“Coming suddenly in electric waves like the swift fist of a storm (and) they took the land. But then, that wasn’t enough. So they went back (big) black stained teeth (and) sucked the blood out of the land (starving) thirsty rivers for water.”


Again, we see the man. He is riding into the heart of a sweat lodge as the first tendrils of light rise, signaling the birth of a new day (this) new page of echoes (writing) our faces into sweet melodies of  hunger and death and grief (we) can hear the bells of far-away churches now (they whisper) and warble and rattle:**

“They took everything – even the heart of the dirt which was embedded deep under the wrinkled tears of our skin. Like a poison fever, they came and took everything, even the reservation, until in the end, we were just like the leaves being scattered across the face of a forest in a storm.”


“Deer In The Meadow”

Deer in

The meadow


Move in

Slow pairs


By two


Web of hooves


To the

Thirsty dampness


The dew

In lines


By two


Knot of toes


In bowls


Perfect tongueless way


Lava flows

Chapter 3

The First Faces of Indian Country


When clocks

Struck gold


Was told


Clocks struck gold


First faces


Indian Country rose


Fatigued blind


Over the

Brittle river


A big slipper

With torn

Frayed ‘soul’


Naked over

The river


We wept


And gravel


To the

Ancient softness

Of the sand-


“Rats In the Bonepile”

And how would we describe the land a thousand years ago?: Trains slicing the horizon into bloody bits (now) clay-marked  (these) cold and tattered clumps of stone. And ghostly horse riders carrying Winchesters cutting through the valley at dawn. And game drinking human blood from crystal rivers (the same way we feasted on fresh venison at the Christmas table: Now the animals eat our spirits whole I said now we are the hooves and the antlered skulls I said now we wear the skin of the deer!):

And berry brambles line the trail (these) are the days before the bulldozers and log trucks came (sucked) the timber off the farms (no) more rabbits (now) they’re all dead (fur piles) and bones (these) are the only memories left us now (I said) our memories are all bones: hollow scenes in the graves of distant pasts (no) more tangible proof that we were here (no) more evidence to prove that the soul of God exists (no) more explanation for our rage or violent histories (shoot) them down! SHOOT NOW! Before they shoot first (before) they shoot old dreams down dead  like the dust-


“Crows Nesting In Caves”

Obviously, we weren’t warriors by choice. But when they came, we had to shoot back. We had to raise our fists and protect ourselves. Because – what kind of man refuses to fight back? Is he without an electric soul to fight for? And what does the pain matter? And what does any of it matter? It’s invisible. The bones are wholly and completely invisible. And why pursue history when history contradicts the story you want to believe? In Indian Country, it’s all how it looks on paper.

by John Aiello

  • These poems first appeared in Issue #7 of Jack Magazine.
  • © John Aiello: 1991; 1999; 2003; 2004. All Rights Reserved.
  • **These Passages by John Aiello, with Frank Aiello & Paul Aiello Jr.

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2022 by in Features & Profiles.
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