Table of Contents
The poem “The Powwow at the End of the World” was written by Sherman Alexie. The poem was published in Sherman Alexie’s poetic collection named “The Summer of Back Windows” in 1996. The poem talks about how the construction of Grand Coulee dam near the Columbia river affected the native American tribes who lived near the river.
About the poet:
Sherman Alexie is a native American poet, short story writer and novelist. Some of his notable works are The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Smoke Signals, Reservation BluesThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, War Dances. He had received the following awards for his literary works like American Book Award (1996), National Book Award (2007). Most of his works talk about the sufferings of native American people due to the domination of white people.
The poet wrote the poem “The Powwow at the End of the World” in a free verse. It consists of twenty seven lines in total.
The poet has used both iambic and trochaic metre in the poem.
Speaker of the poem:
The poem is written from the first person point of view. Thus, it is an example of a lyric poem.
The Grand Coulee Dam is a concrete gravity dam located on the Columbia River in the state of Washington in the United States. It was constructed between 1933 and 1942. The dam was built without a fish ladder, so it prevented the natural migration of the fish that once inhabited its waters. The inhabitants of the water include four species of salmon. The construction of the dam led to the flooding of thousands of acres of land inhabited by indigenous tribes in the area. It destroyed the settlements. This dam let to the end of the first salmon ceremonies of tribes.
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam and topples it……
The speaker begins the poem with an angry tone. He says that he is informed by many to forgive. Here, the pronoun “You” refers to native Americsans. The speaker informs that he has forgiven but he is saying it in a sarcastic way. The hidden meaning is he cannot forgive. The speaker says that an Indian woman like him is very angry and puts her shoulder to the Grandee Coulee Dam. Can anyone topple the dam with their shoulder?. It is impossible right. So, the speaker is using such a description to indicate the power of native Americans.
……. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam downriver from the Grand Coulee…..
Again, the speaker is reminding the readers how people asked the native Amerucans to forgive. Now, the speaker talks about how the flood water destroyed their life. Similarly, the anger of native Americans is compared to flood water which has the capacity to even destroy all the successive dams near the river. First, the anger toppled the dam so, the water that is stored inside the dam.
…..I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific and causes all of it to rise…..
The speaker says, now the water that is stored inside the dam, floods the water. Now through the mouth of the Columbia River, the water enters into the pacific ocean. The water flooded from the dam makes the water level of the pacific ocean rise.
…… I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon waiting in the Pacific…….
The speaker says that he is ready to forgive. But, after the first drop of the flood water is swallowed by the salmon which is waiting in the pacific ocean. The speaker mentions “that salmon” to indicate the species which is unable to enter the Columbia river due to the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam.
……I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors of Hanford……..
The speaker says , as told by the native Americans he will forgive. But, only after the salmon swims through the Columbia river. Through the mouth of Columbia the salmon enters the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned Hanford site.
……..I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.
The speaker says that he is ready to forgive. Here, he wants the salmon to swim through the mouth of Spokane river which is a tributary to the Columbia river. Thus, when the salmon reaches the Columbia river, it arrives near the secret bay. In that secret bay, the speaker is waiting alone. The salmon is trying to deliver a secret message to the speaker.
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon who has three stories it must tell before sunrise:......
The speaker repeats the lines. He says he is told by many people to forgive. The speaker is ready to forgive only when all his demands are fulfilled. Now, he says the salmon is swimming and leaps into the night air above the water and throws a lightning bolt. The salmon with this lightning bolt is ready to fire the brush near the speaker’s feet. Here the term “brush” refers to the undergrowth of shrubs and small trees. This fire led to the way of all the lost homes due to the construction of Grand Coulee Dam. So, with the guide of Salmon all the native Americans started to gather near the river. Now, the salmon gets ready to teach them three stories before the sunrise
……… one story will teach us how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours; the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.
All the three stories have a moral at the end of the story. The speaker doesn’t introduce the readers to the full stories, yet he describes the moral of those stories. The first story teaches the people how to pray. The second story makes the people laugh for hours. Because, the people have suffered a lot of pain due to the construction of the dam. The third story by salmon makes the people dance. The speaker says he will forgive only when the native Americans end their day with “poww” at the end. The term “poww” refers to the celebration of native American in which people from diverse tribes gather for dancing, singing and honouring the tradition of their ancestors.
In the concluding lines, the speaker informs that he will only forgive the people of rich culture who destroyed their living, when he gets back to their older days.