The astonishing, powerful debut by the winner of a 2016 Whiting Writers' Award
WHEREAS her birth signaled the responsibility as mother to teach what it is to be Lakota therein the question: What did I know about being Lakota? Signaled panic, blood rush my embarrassment. What did I know of our language but pieces? Would I teach her to be pieces? Until a friend comforted, Don’t worry, you and your daughter will learn together. Today she stood sunlight on her shoulders lean and straight to share a song in Diné, her father’s language. To sing she motions simultaneously with her hands; I watch her be in multiple musics.
—from “WHEREAS Statements”
WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations. “I am,” she writes, “a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation—and in this dual citizenship I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live.” This strident, plaintive book introduces a major new voice in contemporary literature.
"Keep in mind, I am not a historian// So I will recount facts as best I can, given limited resources and understanding," writes Long Soldier, a 2016 Whiting Award winner, in her formally ambitious and gut-wrenching debut collection. Long Soldier may not be a historian, but she gives a vivid account of the realities of life as a Native American mother, unfurling a series of poems that relate the duplicitous behavior of the U.S. government toward indigenous peoples. Her poem recounting the fate of the Dakota 38, hanged for the Sioux Uprising of 1862 in "the largest legal' mass execution in US history," serves as a microcosm for and a focal point of the collection. Long Soldier leans heavily on the "legal speak and congressional language" of apologies and broken treaties that mark out "centuries in sorry." Employing discrete lyric, conceptual, and concrete forms; extended sequences; and sprawling prose series, she asks, "how do I language a collision arrived at through separation?" The work is difficult for its often stark, dispassionate language as well as the heaviness of the feeling that refuses to be stifled by the means of delivery. Long Soldier underscores how centuries of legal jargon have decimated peoples, their voices, and their languages: "Although I often feel lost on this trail, I know I am not alone."