19 pages 38 minutes read

Sherman Alexie

On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1993

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “On the Amtrak from Boston to New York”

The title provides the setting for the poem: an Amtrak train travelling from Boston to New York City. The opening lines provide a bit of concrete detail and establish the pattern of contrasts that will continue throughout the poem. The speaker is a Native American man seated across the aisle from a white woman.

She says, “Look at all the history, the house / on the hill there is over two hundred years old,” (Lines 2-3). The information is remarkable to the woman because it is filtered through her limited experience. When she “points out the window past” (Line 4) the speaker, neither her gaze nor her thoughts pause to consider who the speaker is or how different his perspective may be. The speaker suggests the problem is perhaps less a personal failure than a systemic one, as the woman points out the window “into what she has been taught” (Line 5). She likely has not questioned that teaching because her privileged position has never required her to do so. The speaker does not have that luxury and must view the world through multiple lenses.

The speaker says they have not learned much more about American History in their short visit “than what I expected” (Line 7) and has seen “far less / of what we should all know of the tribal stories” (Lines 7-8).