(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The thematic organization of the collection is announced in the first poem, which provides an example of the way the poems center on female experience and concerns and which also serves as a thematic map illustrating mixed cultural influences and the conjunction of story, place, and time—both present and past. It is titled “Poem for Myself and Mei: Concerning Abortion” and is headed by a note that reads “Chinle to Fort Defiance April, 1973.” Although Silko does not say so, Mei refers to her friend Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, who is also a poet and who is treated here as an alter ego in the phrase “Myself and Mei.” Chinle and Fort Defiance are towns on the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. The poem grows out of an automobile journey that the two women took, and like several other poems in the collection, it is divided into four sections: Four is the sacred number in Laguna culture and in most American Indian cultures. The first two sections present images of conception (the sun comes “unstuffed with the yellow light of butterflies” [butterflies are commonly associated with children in pueblo culture]) and images of gestation (the winter “snowed mustard grass/ and the springtime rained it”).

The third section presents a seemingly irrelevant image of horses seen from the highway, and the reader is told that the white horse was “scratching his ass on a tree.” The allusion here is to the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” (1939) by the English poet W. H. Auden, in which Auden in turn alludes to two paintings, Icarus and The Massacre of the Innocents, by the sixteenth century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, both of which deal with the deaths of children. Auden observes that old masters such as Bruegel understood the nature of suffering, understood that tragedies of even mythic proportions work themselves out while “the torturer’s horse/ Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.” Silko’s allusion to Auden connects her with the mainstream European American literary tradition for the moment, signifying that the “myself” of the poem’s title (who is also the Laguna Woman of the book’s title) is a person of mixed cultural heritage who of necessity must operate in both American Indian and European American cultural spheres, although the center of her being is firmly rooted in the former.

The fourth section of the poem presents an image of tragedy comparable to that of the death of Icarus; the butterflies “die softly/ against the windshield” of the car, where their “iridescent wings/ flutter and cling/ all the way home.” When one remembers that Icarus died when he ventured too close to the sun, melting the wings of wax his father Daedalus had made for him, the wings of the butterflies become especially significant, connecting Icarus’ abortive and fatal flight with the abortive and fatal flights of the butterfly children....

(The entire section is 1189 words.)