Unsettling America: ?Birdfoot?s Grampa?

The three poems I read from Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry are “Heavy Blue Veins” by Luis J. Rodriguez (5), “Crazy Horse Speaks” by Sherman Alexie (237), and Joseph Bruchac’s “Birdfoot’s Grampa” (266). I actually read more than that but began to feel like an ambulance chaser, intrigued by the racist gore. “Heavy Blue Veins” confused me. I was unsure about why the woman was cutting her ankles. “Crazy Horse Speaks” was right up the alley of my other class in which we are reading Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. My favorite though is “Birdfoot’s Grampa.”

Initially, “Birdfoot’s Grampa” is not as emotionally difficult as many of the others. On the surface, the poem depicts an act of kindness rather than a reaction to the unkind. Birdfoot’s Grampa¬†saves toads in the road after a rain. Of course, between the lines is where the tragedy lies. These toads are displaced from their homes, much like the American Indians with their weathered brown skin, by an influx of water symbolic of white men flooding into Indian Territory in the name of Manifest Destiny. The toads are unable to find their way clear of danger having been blinded by white headlights. This is reminiscent of the US government’s deception of American Indians in order to steal their land. If the American Indians did not step aside, the result was often a mass slaughter. The difference between history and this poem is that Indians were overrun rather than run over, as would be the fate of the toads if it weren’t for the consideration of Birdfoot’s Grampa. He is an Indian with high regard for the spirit of the Earth and all her creatures. This seemingly small act of protecting each toad demonstrates that no life is unworthy or insignificant. His conscience demands that he live in harmony with all creatures, regardless of the advancement from horses to cars, although the whites believed their advancement of weaponry earned them the right to claim superiority. While Birdfoot, the grandson, is initially annoyed at the constant disruption in their journey, he gains understanding of life?s value by learning from the wise old man. The Indian tradition is passed down through the genealogical lines as they are depicted in the title.

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