Table of Contents
Sherman Alexie’s poem “Crow Testament” explores the experiences, viewpoints, and resiliency of Native American cultures. The audience is given a lens through which to consider the topics of identity, cultural continuity, historical suffering, and the enduring strength of indigenous traditions through the figure of Crow. The poem is divided into vignettes, each of which offers a view into the various aspects of life, spirituality, and socioeconomic difficulties faced by Native American communities.
About the poet
Sherman Alexie, a Native American writer, poet, and filmmaker, was born on October 7, 1966, on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. His cultural background influenced his writing, with his education at Gonzaga University and Washington State University. Alexie’s literary works, including poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and screenplays, often blend humor, satire, and poignant storytelling to address complex social and cultural issues. He has received numerous awards and is considered a prominent voice in contemporary Native American literature.
Cain lifts Crow, that heavy black bird and strikes down Abel. Damn, says Crow, I guess this is just the beginning.
In Sherman Alexie’s poem, the poet draws a parallel between the biblical story of Cain and Abel and the relationship between Cain and Crow. Cain lifts Crow, a heavy black bird, which is an allusion to the biblical story of Cain killing his brother Abel. The poem also references the biblical narrative, where Cain becomes jealous of Abel and kills him, often considered the first murder in human history. Crow, witnessing the murder, acknowledges the violence and bloodshed as the beginning of a pattern of conflict that will persist.
The poem uses biblical allusion and symbolism to explore the enduring theme of violence in human history and society. The lines reference the biblical story of Cain and Abel, where Cain’s jealousy and anger lead to fratricide. Crow, a symbol of wisdom and insight, reflects the human capacity for violence and its enduring nature. The poem also encourages reflection on the darker aspects of human nature, such as jealousy, anger, and violence, which have been present in humans since the beginning and continue to manifest in contemporary society.
The white man, disguised as a falcon, swoops in and yet again steals a salmon from Crow's talons. Damn, says Crow, if I could swim I would have fled this country years ago.
The author portrays a meeting between a Crow and a white man in these lines from the poem, who is represented by a falcon. The falcon swoops down and grabs a salmon from Crow’s talons. Crow laments the situation and suggests that, if it had been possible, he would have fled the nation to avoid the ongoing oppression.
The poem uses metaphors and imagery to represent the ongoing struggle and oppression faced by Native American communities. The white man is represented as a falcon, symbolizing power, aggression, and predatory behavior. The theft of the salmon from Crow’s talons symbolizes the ongoing injustices suffered by Native American communities. Crow’s response to the theft is a mix of frustration and resignation, reflecting his longing for escape. The theme of injustice is also conveyed through Crow’s voice, highlighting the enduring impact of colonization and the sense of dispossession felt by indigenous peoples. The metaphor of swimming, referring to the inability to swim, can also be interpreted as a desire for freedom and liberation from oppression.
The Crow God as depicted in all of the reliable Crow bibles looks exactly like a Crow. Damn, says Crow, this makes it so much easier to worship myself.
These lines from the poem talk about how the Crow God is portrayed in “reliable Crow bibles.” The Crow God is described as appearing exactly like a crow, which enables Crow to express comfort in worshipping himself.
These lines explores the connection between the Crow people’s spirituality, cultural identity, and the natural world, highlighting the Crow God’s resemblance to a crow and the importance of self-affirmation and cultural pride. The lines also mention reliable Crow Bibles, sacred texts that guide the Crow people’s spiritual practices. The Crow God’s resemblance to nature reflects a deep connection to nature and a sense of identity. The lines encourage reflection on the relationship between spirituality, cultural identity, and the natural world, suggesting that the natural world serves as a source of spiritual connection and affirmation.
Among the ashes of Jericho, Crow sacrifices his firstborn son. Damn, says Crow, a million nests are soaked with blood.
These lines from the poem describe Crow offering a sacrifice in the ruins of Jericho. Specifically, Crow sacrifices his firstborn son, and as a result, a large number of nests are drenched in blood. The word “Damn” is used to describe Crow’s response to this act and its consequences.
The poem explores themes of sacrifice, consequences, and spirituality in indigenous culture and biblical allusion. Crow’s sacrifice in Jericho resembles the Battle of Jericho, where the walls collapsed due to Israelites’ actions. The aftermath of the sacrifice results in a multitude of nests being soaked in blood, symbolizing the consequences of significant actions. The exclamation “Damn” reflects Crow’s reaction, highlighting the complex aspects of spirituality and ritual. The image of nests soaked in blood symbolizes the destruction and disruption of natural processes. The narrative ambiguity invites the reader to contemplate the meaning and significance of Crow’s sacrifice and its impact on the natural world.
When Crows fight Crows the sky fills with beaks and talons. Damn, says Crow, it's raining feathers.
In these lines from the poem, the poet describes a dispute or fight among crows. When crows fight, the sky fills with their beaks and talons, resulting in a cascade of feathers. In response to this episode, Crow exclaims, “Damn,” showing his displeasure with the falling feathers.
The poem depicts a crow fight, highlighting the intelligence and complex social behaviors of these birds. The sky is filled with beaks and talons, symbolizing the intensity of the fight. The crows shed feathers, representing freedom, transformation, or spirituality. The crow’s reaction, “Damn,” humanizes the bird and emphasizes its relatability. The poem also contains symbolism and ambiguity, highlighting the complexities of nature and life, and emphasizing the intricate relationships and dynamics within the natural world. Overall, the poem highlights the multifaceted aspects of existence and the complexities of nature and life.
Crow flies around the reservation and collects empty beer bottles but they are so heavy he can only carry one at a time. So, one by one, he returns them but gets only five cents a bottle. Damn, says Crow, redemption is not easy.
These lines from the poem show Crow flying over a reserve and gathering empty beer bottles. However, the bottles are heavy, and Crow can only hold one at a time. Despite his efforts, he can only redeem them for five cents each. Crow responds with an outburst, highlighting that redemption is not easy.
These lines depict Crow collecting empty beer bottles on the reservation, highlighting the challenges faced by Native American reservations. The limited carrying capacity reflects the struggle to address social issues and addiction. The concept of “redemption” carries symbolic weight, symbolizing the efforts to overcome problems related to alcohol consumption. The meager return of five cents per bottle highlights economic disparity and limited opportunities. Crow’s exclamation of “Damn” expresses frustration or disillusionment with the task and limited rewards. These lines serve as social commentary, addressing issues like alcoholism, poverty, and the challenges of reservation life. Despite the challenges, Crow continues his task, showcasing resilience and determination to make a positive difference.
Crow rides a pale horse into a crowded powwow but none of the Indian panic. Damn, says Crow, I guess they already live near the end of the world.
Crow is portrayed in these lines of the poem as riding a pale horse into a crowded powwow, a Native American gathering or celebration. Interestingly, despite the strange sight of Crow on a pale horse, none of the Native Americans in attendance panicked. In response, Crow says, “Damn,” indicating astonishment or realizing that the attendants of the powwow are already close to the end of the world.
The image of a Crow riding a pale horse symbolizes change and foreboding in Native American culture. The powwow, a gathering central to Native American culture, is a symbol of cultural resilience and continuity. Crow’s absence of panic suggests acceptance and resilience in the face of change or unusual events. His response, “Damn,” conveys surprise and realization that the people at the powwow are accustomed to living in a world where unusual events may be the norm. The statement about living near the end of the world may refer to historical and ongoing challenges faced by Native American communities, such as displacement, cultural suppression, and environmental degradation. These lines offer social commentary on the experiences and perspectives of Native American communities, highlighting their resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity.