Saturday, February 4, 2012

Crazy Horse invented an atom bomb

We have to believe in the power of imagination
because it's all we have, and ours is stronger 
than theirs
-Lawrence Thorton.

Just before a recent work trip, a package arrived from a dear RPCV friend. It was filled with coffee, gum, dental floss and books (he knows me well). Sherman Alexie's The Lone Range and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven caught my eye, and I threw it in my bag as I was headed to the airport.

Reading about life on a US reservation while in Africa has led me to (again) think about what might have been.. Development theories are designed to explain why places like North America and Africa have developed the way they have but they do not satisfy my curiosity about the counterfactual. What if the slave trade had not extracted West Africa's strongest youth? What if the US had not had an influx of cheap labor? In the context of life on a reservation, Alexie's stories illustrate structural oppression, a disconnect between cultures, an epidemic of dis-empowerment and defeat - all themes of colonialism that run through the developing world even though they manifest themselves differently. What I like, and cannot help but share, is that while Alexie contemplates what might have been he turns this act of imagination into a powerful dream of what could be.

Imagine Crazy Horse invented the atom bomb in 1876 and detonated it over Washington, D.C. Would the urban Indians still be sprawled around a one-room apartment in the cable television reservation?.... Imagine Columbus landed in 1492 and some tribe or another drowned him the Ocean. Would Lester FallsApart be shoplifting in the 7-11?
There are so many possibilities in the reservation 7-11, so many methods of survival. Imagine every Skin on the reservation is the new lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, on the cover of a rock-and-roll magazine. Image forgiveness is sold 2 for 1. Imagine every Indian is a video game with braids. Do you believe laughter can save us? All I know is that I count coyotes to help me sleep. Didn't you know? Imagination is the politics of dreams; imagination turns every word into a bottle rocket. ...imagine every day is Independence Day and save us from traveling the river changed; save us from hitchhiking the long road home. Imagine an escape. Imagine that your own shadow on the wall is a perfect door. Imagine a song stronger than penicillin. Imagine a spring with water that mends broken bones. Imagine a drum which wraps itself around your heart. Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace.

I won't try to make sweeping conclusions. Just wanted to share a heart's song to serve as chewing meat for the future. Back to our postcards pal...

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