Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

Louise Erdrich

b. 1954

Indian Boarding School: The Runaways


Instructor's questions: 1. How do the experiences in this poem resemble those of Zitkala-Sa in American Indian Stories?  Or the Creation or Origin Stories in the American Indian Creation Stories?

How does the poem express a minority identity or voice, or a distinctly American Indian story, possibly of loss and survival?

How does "Indian Boarding School: The Runaways" work as a lyric poem? What uses of imagery, metaphor, symbols, sound, and other literary devices?


Indian Boarding School: The Runaways

Homeís the place we head for in our sleep.
Boxcars stumbling north in dreams
donít wait for us. We catch them on the run.
The rails, old lacerations that we love,
shoot parallel across the face and break                             5
just under Turtle Mountain. Riding scars
you canít get lost. Home is the place they cross. 

The lame guard strikes a match and makes the dark
less tolerant. We watch through cracks in boards
as the land starts rolling till it hurts                                     10
to be out here, cold in regulation clothes.
We know the sheriffís waiting at midrun
to take us back. His car is dumb and warm.
The highway doesnít rock. It only hums
like a wing of long insults. The worn-down welts                15
of ancient punishments lead back and forth. 

All runaways wore dresses, long green ones,
the color you would think shame was. We scrub
the sidewalks down because itís shameful work.
Our brushes cut the stone in watered arcs                          20
and in the soak frail outlines shiver clear
a moment, things us kids pressed on the dark
face before it hardened, pale, remembering
delicate old injuries, the spines of names and leaves.          24