Leslie Marmon Silko’s “The Storyteller’s Escape” is one of the story-poems included in Storyteller, Silko’s somewhat autobiographical compilation of stories, photographs, and poems. The work is set in the southwestern United States, specifically in the Laguna area near Albuquerque, New Mexico. In “The Storyteller’s Escape,” the storyteller is a Native American woman who explains why stories are important. Her statements are alternated with third-person comments and bare descriptions of episodes in the storyteller’s life. The free-form stanzas move, more or less, visually in a righthand direction across the page.
The poem begins with the storyteller’s assertion that “With these stories of ours/ we can escape almost anything/ with these stories we will survive.” This woman—acknowledged by her people to be their storyteller—knows all her people’s stories of escape and keeps them both to help the living and to remember the dead.
The people consider her best story to be the one of her own escape from an unnamed enemy. As usual during an enemy attack, the people leave their homes to hide. This time, the enemy is so close that there are no possibilities for rest stops. The old woman muses that in earlier escapes, she had been healthy and fast, leaving the slower villagers behind. However, this time, she is the one who slows under the heat of the sun and who must sit down in the shade to rest. Her main concern is not the enemy, but herself and her story: She fears that no one will know what happened to her or be able to tell her story; thus, no one will remember and grieve for her.
Making the best of her situation, she tries to think of a story to distract herself. She creates a story in which a child looks back, remembers her, and creates a story for her. The child’s story explains that the old woman plans to outfox the enemy—by dying before she can be caught. When finally the sun moves away from the old woman, she imagines it beating down on the enemy. She waits through the night until dawn and, knowing she might encounter the enemy yet, returns to the village. She believes this is truly her best escape story. Yet it is the child who must ultimately tell this story, since the old woman died that day.