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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Geographical Context

The poem is set on the Boston to New York City leg of what was in 1993 Amtrak’s high-speed Metroliner service. The route, like the current Acela service, goes through Boston, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and New Haven, Connecticut, before reaching New York. Its endpoint is Washington, D.C.

The East coast setting not only anchors the action of the poem in lived experience—it is symbolically significant.  Boston played a significant role in the colonization of America and the success of the American Revolution, being the home of many American forefathers. Alexie’s poem critiques the erasure of the thousands of years of history predating the colonization of the continent, reminding the reader that America’s story did not begin when Europeans arrived.

The poem’s use of doubling and contrast comes into play through the oblique presence of the West Coast. While the speaker is physically in the east, their home and heritage are always present. It gets a direct mention when the speaker says their “little reservation out West / and at least a hundred more surrounding Spokane, / the city I pretended to call my home” (Lines 15-17) have their own Walden Ponds.

The author’s Spokane Indian ancestors were river people who lived along the banks of the Spokane and Columbia rivers, fishing, hunting, and gathering in a semi-nomadic way of life.