“Dear John Wayne”
August and the drive-in picture is packed.
We lounge on the hood of the
surrounded by the slow-burning spirals they sell
at the window, to vanquish the hordes of mosquitoes.
Nothing works. They break through the smoke screen for blood.
Always the lookout spots the Indian first,
spread north to south, barring progress.
The Sioux or some other Plains bunch
in spectacular columns, ICBM missiles,
feathers bristling in the meaningful sunset.
The drum breaks. There will be no parlance.
Only the arrows whining, a death-cloud of nerves
swarming down on the settlers
who die beautifully, tumbling like dust weeds
into the history that brought us all here
together: this wide screen beneath the sign of the bear.
The sky fills, acres of blue squint and eye
that the crowd cheers. His face moves over us,
a thick cloud of vengeance, pitted
like the land that was once flesh. Each rut,
each scar makes a promise: It is
not over, this fight, not as long as you resist.
Everything we see belongs to us.
A few laughing Indians fall over the hood
slipping in the hot spilled butter.
The eye sees a lot, John, but the heart is so blind.
Death makes us owners of nothing.
He smiles, a horizon of teeth
the credits reel over, and then the white fields
again blowing in the true-to-life dark.
The dark films over everything.
We get into the car
scratching our mosquito bites, speechless and small
as people are when the movie is done.
We are back in our skins.
How can we help but keep hearing his voice,
the flip side of the sound track, still playing:
Come on, boys, we got them
where we want them, drunk, running.
They'll give us what we want, what we need.
Even his disease was the idea of taking everything.
Those cells, burning, doubling, splitting out of their skins.
English 1301, Section 63
Erdrich, Louise. "Dear John Wayne." Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical
Thinking and Writing. Ed. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. 705-07.
"Dear John Wayne" seems to be a poem of cowboys and Indians coexisting together peacefully. The setting is at a drive-in during the harsh heat of August, and instead of smoke being used as a distress signal it is being used to ward off mosquitoes. The poem goes on to say "The drum breaks. There will be no parlance." I consider the drum to be the starting of the movie instead of the beginning of a battle followed by Indian battle cries. This shows the peacefulness that is taking place between two very different cultures.
I believe the movie is about prior battles between the Indians and settlers as the poem talks about the arrows shooting through the air. It follows by saying "This wide screen beneath the sign of the bear," makes me think things are even more peaceful because a "bear" approaches, which would be very unusual if it sensed danger. The poem later talks of Indians slipping on butter. Did the Indians introduce the settlers to popcorn? As the movie comes to a conclusion, the poem states "We are back in ourselves." Does that mean this moment of peace is over? After all, as sang in the song at the end of the poem, "We've got them where we want them, drunk, running. They will give us what we want, what we need."
"Dear John Wayne" seems to be a poem of cowboys and Indians coexisting together peacefully. The setting is at a drive-in during the harsh heat of August, and instead of smoke being used as a distress signal it is being used to ward off mosquitoes. The poem goes...
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