Dreams Of The Past: An Explication of Louise Erdrich's Poem "Indian Boarding School: The Runaways"

Topics: The Runaways, Boarding school, Poetry Pages: 6 (1516 words) Published: April 8, 2004
1.Home's the place we head for in our sleep.

2. Boxcars stumbling north in dreams

3. don't wait for us. We catch them on the run.

4. The rails, old lacerations that we love,

5. shoot parallel across the face and break

6. just under Turtle Mountains. Riding scars

7. you can't get lost. Home is the place they cross.

8. The lame guard strikes a match and makes the dark

9. less tolerant. We watch through cracks in boards

10. as the land starts rolling, rolling till it hurts

11. to be here, cold in regulation clothes.

12. We know the sheriff's waiting at midrun

13. to take us back. His car is dumb and warm.

14. The highway doesn't rock, it only hums

15. like a wing of long insults. The worn-down welts

16. of ancient punishments lead back and forth.

17. All runaways wear dresses, long green ones,

18. the color you would think shame was. We scrub

19. the sidewalks down because it's shameful work.

20. Our brushes cut the stone in watered arcs

21. and in the soak frail outlines shiver clear

22. a moment, things us kids pressed on the dark

23. face before it hardened, pale, remembering

24. delicate old injuries, the spines of names and leaves.

Louise Erdrich's poem "Indian Boarding School: The Runaways" reads like a short story of Native American children dreaming of past experiences in their quest to return home and their failure to do so. This particular poem is made up of three short poems that could stand on their own; however, they are joined together as one. The first stanza describes the path to freedom the children must take. The second stanza shows the reader where the children are caught and their return trip to the boarding school. The third stanza explores the punishments and memories the runaways must endure after their escapade.

In the very first line of the first stanza, the poem speaker says, "Home's the place we head for in our sleep" (1). This one sentence sets up the reader with an explanation that the poem is going to take place in the dreams of an individual thinking about a faraway home that is missed.

"Boxcars stumbling north in dreams / don't wait for us" (2-3) talks about a train passing by heading north that does not stop for passengers, especially those individuals that must sneak a ride in boxcars that seem to ride unsteady on the rails they journey upon.

The following sentence, "We catch them on the run" (3), means the runaways must plan their breakout at just the correct moment. The train does not stop to pick up passengers. The runaways must time their escape so they will be near a location where the train passes by at a slow-enough speed so they can run alongside and jump into the moving boxcars.

The next sentence, "The rails, old lacerations that we love / shoot parallel across the face and break / just under Turtle Mountains" (4-6) can be broken down into three parts. The first part speaks of the railroad tracks representing a blemish on the landscape the children have grown up with. Even though they hate the rails for what they stand for, the children have come to love them because they represent the path and direction that points toward home. The subsequent parts talk of the rails heading across the landscape in the direction of the mountains. Just before they reach the base of the mountains, the rails make a sudden turn, allowing Turtle Mountain to overlook the rails and the path toward home.

"Riding scars / you can't get lost" (6-7) speaks of children traveling in boxcars that ride the rails. If these rails are followed by other runaways, they act like a compass pointing the course one wants to journey.

The last sentence of the first stanza states, "Home is the place they cross" (7). This one sentence pulls the entire first stanza together and gives it meaning. We now know that the railroad tracks pass near their home. The children only need to be carried in the boxcars that ride the rails that scar the...

Cited: Erdrich, Louise. "Indian Boarding School: The Runaways." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 8th ed. Eds. X.J.Kennedy, Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 2002. 1192-93.
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