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On purchasing Layli Long Soldier’s most recent poetry collection from a Waterstones bookseller

(23/9/21) — Delilah Dennett

I am purchasing Layli Long Soldier’s most recent poetry collection from a Waterstones bookseller.

I was searching bookshops like these for any material on indigenous American authors I could find.

I was studying in preparation for my third year dissertation, which I had decided over the summer would be focussed on Native American literature.

This material is difficult to come by in provincial English bookshops.

I find Whereas by Layli Long Soldier and decide that I want to purchase it.

I take it to the counter.

I notice that the man serving me is white.

The man serving me takes my books and sees that I have Whereas.

He asks me, in surprise, if I have ever read any of her work before.

I tell him I have not.

He tells me how much the collection moves him. How he felt so emotional after reading it that he cried.

A white man’s tears over an indigenous woman's work.

He says that he hopes I enjoy reading the collection.

I thank him for his time, take the book, and leave the shop.

All the while, I am thinking of how strange it is that he cries over experiences and words so alien to his own experiences and words.

As if tears can bridge the gap between yourself and other people.

I wonder to myself, is he ashamed? Frightened? Embarrassed? Or genuinely loved by the poetry collection?

Or do I give him too much credit for something I cannot afford to feel or act upon?

I am indigenous. He is white. Yet it is his tears that splatter the pages.

Almost as if white tears have the privilege of being drawn.

I read the collection a few weeks later, taking my time to delve into its various crevices and depths.

I finish reading that collection that day.

I do not cry.

I cannot cry.

I do not have the privilege of crying over this poetry collection by a fellow indigenous woman.

I return the book to its place on the self, in between Native American histories of genocide and oppression, and the searingly painful memoir of Linda Hogan,

And I set out to face the rest of the day, alone with my thoughts.

Display Image Credit: Layli Long Soldier - WHEREAS (Cover Image)



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