Pomo Basketweaving, Poison, and the Politics of Restoration in Greg Sarris's Grand Avenue
University of Nebraska Press
In the first story of Greg Sarris's Grand Avenue: A Novel in Stories, fourteen-year-old Jasmine describes the mural that her Aunt Faye has painted on the front wall of her home: a "big green forest" with "dark trunks and thick green leaves" to which Faye over time has added a series of crosses in pink fingernail polish (GA 9).1 Each cross represents an incident of poisoning in the family's past, poison which, she explains, "can circle around and get someone in your family. It's everywhere" (4). When Faye's sister steals her new boyfriend, for example, the theft marks the return of the "man poison" (20) that first infected Faye when, as a young girl, she stole a lover from her cousin Anna (21). The poison's return leads Faye to modify further the painting on her wall, by drawing "circles around many of the crosses and connect[ing] them with lines from one to another_[in] what looked like a black crayon" (20). As Faye's fear and anger grow, she eventually covers the entire painting with the crayon, leaving it entirely "Black, except for the edges here and there where you could see a bit of green from the trees underneath" (23). Faye's painting is a history, a narrative, a genealogy; it depicts the pattern that poison has woven over and through time in her family. The interconnected lines that bind family members to each other have become buried within the blackness of an oblivion brought on by the fear of poison and the separation and silence caused by it.
Burnham, M. (2002). Pomo Basketweaving, Poison, and the Politics of Restoration in Greg Sarris's Grand Avenue. Studies in American Indian Literatures, 14(4), 18-36. Also reprinted in Native American Writing, ed. Robert Lee (Routledge, forthcoming).