The Summer of Black Widows
The spiders appeared suddenly
after that summer rainstorm.
Some people still insist the spiders fell with the rain
while others believe the spiders grew from the damp soil like weeds
with eight thin roots.
The elders knew the spiders
carried stories in their stomachs.
We tucked our pants into our boots when we walked through the fields
of fallen stories.
An Indian girl opened the closet door and a story fell into her hair.
We lived in the shadow of a story trapped in the ceiling lamp.
The husk of a story museumed on the windowsill.
Before sleep we shook our blankets and stories fell to the floor.
A story floated in a glass of water left on the kitchen table.
We opened doors slowly and listened for stories.
The stories rose on hind legs and offered their red bellies to the most
Stories in our cereal boxes.
Stories in our firewood.
Stories in the pockets of our coats.
We captured stories and offered them to the ants, who carried the
stories back to their queen.
A dozen stories per acre.
We poisoned the stories and gathered their remains with broom
The spiders disappeared suddenly
after that summer lightning storm.
Some people will insist the spiders were burned to ash
while others believe the spiders climbed the lightning bolts
and became an new constellation.
The elders knew the spiders
had left behind bundles of stories.
Up in the corners of our old houses
we still find those small white bundles
and nothing, neither fire
nor water, neither rock nor wind
can bring them down.
i found an article on this poem From academic one file from Michigan Electronic Library (mel) the link is
the first paragraph states “In Sherman Alexie’s title poem, black widow spiders, appearing on the Spokane reservation in miraculous numbers, become a metaphor for stories. The summer is full of spiders and thus rich in stories, and even after the spiders disappear, their evidence is found in every corner of a place that remains rich in poetic possibility.”
I think this analysis however misses the main point of the piece entirely yes if you read the poem you can easily tell that the spiders are symbolized as stories and if you did not read a lot of Alexies works the analysis would just end there. this would be a regular poem with symbolism about the spiders on a reservation and how they left stories that will never be swept away and would be the end of a poem that is just like every other poem by naturalistic and optimistic poet out there. knowing Sherman Alexies other poems, even to the limited extent that I do, I believe that, this is not Sherman Alexies intent. Most of Sherman Alexies poems leave me comparing Sherman Alexie to Malcom X. With his strong language and constant hint that the native Americans will never forget their suffering and may one day fight to get there land back it seems odd that this poem would have nothing to do with this central idea that is found in the rest of his poems. this thought process lead me to focus on the portion of the poem that states
“while others believe the spiders climbed the lightning bolts and became an new constellation. The elders knew the spiders had left behind bundles of stories. Up in the corners of our old houses we still find those small white bundles and nothing, neither fire nor water, neither rock nor wind can bring them down”
The first sentence of this portion of the poem displays these spiders as equivalent to gods worthy of the stars which to me would mean that these are in no way just spiders from a rain storm. If these are not spiders, then that leads me to believe that these spiders are focus more on the story aspect of the poem, yet I don’t believe that exactly works, I must be more specific and use the statement that these stories have to be exclusively the native American stories or even the Natives Americans themselves. Viewing the next sentence in light of what was derived from the first, this would mean that the natives even after the lightning storm that killed them (the white settlers, I blame Andrew Jackson mostly) would still be spread in thought and ideas throughout the land. Using these ideas and Sherman alexie’s normal (and actually quite understandable) disdain for the invading white settlers, the last sentence could be easily understood to mean that the natives traditions, beliefs and people, will never just be brushed out of America by the governments “fire … water… rock [or] wind” into oblivion.