“This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”
I enjoyed this short story about Victor, a Native American on a reservation in Spokane, Washington. His father, long gone from their reservation, has died and Victor must travel to Phoenix to settle the family affairs.
Unemployed and with no money, Victor turns to the tribal council. When that isn’t enough, he accepts an offer from Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Thomas is the boy he once beat up and the man he has ignored for years. Thomas, a lonely soul, tells his stories to anyone who will listen. Like all things, his offer to Victor has a condition. Victor must let Thomas go along on the trip.
As they travel, we learn about a promise Thomas once made to Victor’s father and we grow to understand this man who sometimes speaks in a strange and prophetic way. It’s a story that puts you in a somber mood, with small pieces of humor that make you smile in a grim kind of way. It finishes on an unsettled note, just the way you might expect. For Alexie brings together two unlikely people for a brief time. They share memories, honor their heritage, and then part ways with a private agreement. Is it enough? It’s probably all Victor can manage and the rest of the burden is carried quietly by Thomas.
“This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” was first published in Esquire in 1994.
Sherman Alexis is a poet, writer of fiction, and a filmmaker. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, he grew up in Wellpinit, Washington. His writing reflects his experiences growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He has received many awards, including the National Book Award for the Young Adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and the PEN/Faulkner Award for War Dances. His latest book is Blasphemy, a collection of fifteen classic and fifteen new stories.
You can learn more about Sherman Alexie at these websites:
Here is a partial list of Alexie’s more recent works:
Blasphemy – New and Selected Stories
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven – Stories
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – National Book Award Winner
War Dances – Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award
Ten Little Indians – Stories
The Toughest Indian in the World
Smoke Signals – film. Wrote and co-produced
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