Indian Boarding School
The Runaways by Louise Erdrich Louise Erdrich’s poem Indian Boarding School puts the emotions of a person or group of people in a setting around a railroad track. The feelings experienced are compared to things from the setting, which takes on human characteristics. The boarding school may have been a real place she went to, or where mistreatment of her people was not uncommon, or it could simply be a tool she used to express racism towards them in general. With that fact, the reader must remember that although the words are from the runaways’ point of view, there are not necessarily any real runaways.
From the point of view at which this is told, the runaways are eager to find their way home. They do not necessarily really try to runaway, it may just be in their fantasies, ‘Home’s the place we head for in our sleep. ‘ (line 1). The first use of personification is in the line, ‘The rails, old lacerations that we love,'(line 4). It is not yet quite clear why Erdrich would compare the train tracks with old lacerations until the lines, ‘shoot parallel across the face and break just under the Turtle Mountains. ‘ (lines 5-6).
Mountains are definite things that are physical in nature. Train tracks on a face are hard to imagine, so it leads us to believe it has some deeper meaning. This reveals that the children want to run away from the boarding school for more serious matters than just good old home-sickness. The ‘old lacerations’ may represent wounds on their own faces, internal or external. Visually, train tracks look like wounds that were stitched and scarred. The Turtle Mountains must relate to this idea somehow since they are in the same sentence.
The word ‘under’ is used for describing the direction in which the lacerations run. Considering that they start from the face, the Turtle Mountains may represent breasts. The two are alike in the fact that they are both under the face. With that in mind, and the next line, ‘Riding scars you can’t get lost. Home is the place they cross,’ (lines 6-7). One could assume that ‘home’ means the heart. The phrase, ‘Home is where the heart is’ attests to this well. If the turtle Mountains do represent breasts, it makes it even more convincing, since the heart is right near them.
There should still be an explanation as to how the land relates to the Indian children. The ‘old lacerations’ are oddly put into the line, ‘The rails, old lacerations that we love,'(line 4). Old scars could also represent past memories. This poem demonstrates the truth of what it really felt and feels like to have lived through such bad treatment. It is disturbing to think that instead of just learning at school, Louise Erdrich, amongst other children, may have learned what it felt like to be hated.
At such early ages, they taught these children that the way they were treated was how the world was supposed to be. It displays the painful scars embedded so deeply into a child, from a time that should have been the most nurturing part of his/her life. My own personal experience wasn’t as severe as the poem in question but I was faced with prejudice a few times in my life. When I was in elementary school, a person whom I thought was my friend called me a nigger. I was saddened more than upset because I knew from childhood that that word meant something derogatory.