The Powwow at the End of the World

By Sherman Alexie b. 1966 Sherman Alexie
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam   
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive   
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam   
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you   
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find   
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific   
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive   
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon   
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia   
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors   
of Hanford. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River   
as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives   
in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.   
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after   
that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws   
a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire   
which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told   
by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon   
who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us   
how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours;   
the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many   
of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing   
with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.

Sherman Alexie, “The Powwow at the End of the World” from The Summer of Black Widows. Copyright © 1996 by Sherman Alexie. Used by permission of Hanging Loose Press.

Source: The Summer of Black Widows (Story Line Press, 1996)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Sherman Alexie b. 1966

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Refrain

 Sherman  Alexie

Biography

Sherman Alexie is a preeminent Native American poet, novelist, performer and filmmaker. He has garnered high praise for his poems and short stories of contemporary Native American reservation life, among them The Business of Fancydancing (1992), The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (1993), which won a PEN/Hemingway Award, and Smoke Signals (1998), a critically acclaimed movie based on one of Alexie’s short stories and . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Refrain

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.