The Plague of Doves
Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich

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The Plague of Doves


indigenous Americans (fiction)

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The Plague of Doves

Copyright © 2008 by Louise Erdrich

The Plague of Doves I had expected to feel joy but instead felt a confusion of sorrow, or maybe fear, for it seemed that my life was a hungry story and I its source, and with this kiss I had now begun to deliver myself into the words.



A Little Nip

“Have you not, perhaps, taken the name of the Lord in vain?”

“Mon Dieu! Never!”



“If hell was hot enough to eat the flesh, there would be no flesh left to suffer,” said Mooshum. “And if hell was meant to burn the soul, which is invisible, it would have to be imaginary fire, the flames of which you cannot feel.”

“So either way, hell is seriously compromised.”



“Then do you mean to tell me that the body and the blood is just, eh, in your head, like? The bread stands in for the real thing. Then I could see your point. Otherwise, the Eucharist is a cannibal meal.”

Father Cassidy’s lips turned purple and he tried to roar, though it came out a gurgle. “Heresy! What you describe. Heresy. The bread does indeed become the body. The wine does indeed become the blood. Yet it does not compare in any way to the eating of another human.”

“There is a moment in a man’s life when he knows exactly who he is. Old Hop Along did not mean to, but he helped me to that moment.”

Holy Track

“I could always take it or leave it,” he paused, crumpling his face with an odd wince, and added, low, that sometimes the whiskey would not just take or leave him. The whiskey had its own mind. Or spirit, he said. A cunning spirit. Sometimes it fooled him. Sometimes it set him free.



She had a talent for looking at a person with no expression—you filled in whatever you felt guiltiest about.
Bitter Tea

But when Neve Harp said that she was going back to the beginning of things and wanted to talk about how the town of Pluto came to be and why it was inside the original reservation boundaries, even though hardly any Indians lived in Pluto, well, both of the old men’s faces became like Mama’s—quiet, with an elaborate reserve, and something else that has stuck in my heart ever since. I saw that the loss of their land was lodged inside of them forever. This loss would enter me, too. Over time, I came to know that the sorrow was a thing that each of them covered up according to their character—my old uncle through his passionate discipline, my mother through strict kindness and cleanly order. As for my grandfather, he used the patient art of ridicule.

“What you are asking,” said Mooshum that afternoon, opening his hands and his mouth into a muddy, gaping grin, “is how was it stolen? How has this great thievery become acceptable? How do we live right here beside you, knowing what we lost and how you took it?”

Town Fever What men call adventures usually consist of the stoical endurance of appalling daily misery.



The Wolf

It is the same with all desperate enterprises that involve boundaries we place upon the earth. By drawing a line and defending it, we seem to think we have mastered something. What? The earth swallows and absorbs even those who manage to form a country, a reservation. (Yet there is something to the love and knowledge of the land and its relationship to dreams—that’s what the old people had. That’s why as a tribe we exist to the present.) It is my job to maintain the sovereignty of tribal law on tribal land, but even as I do so, I think of my grandfather’s phrase for the land disease, town fever, and how he nearly died of greed, its main symptom.



The Kindred

There was spirit, and that was vast, vast, vast, so vast we had to shut out the enormousness of it. We were like receivers, Billy said; our brains were biochemical machines, small receptors that narrowed down the hugeness of spiritual intelligence into something we could handle.

Our individual consciousnesses were sieves of the divine. We could only know what our minds could encompass safely. The task, as Billy saw it, was not to stretch the individual’s barriers, as you might expect—not exactly that. Billy believed that a group of minds living together, thinking as one, had the potential to expand further than any individual. If we opened ourselves, all at once, in one place, we might possibly brush the outskirts, the edges of that vastness of spirit.

Shamengwa Corwin had a thing for language. He inhaled it from movies and rock lyrics, television. It rubbed around inside him, word against word. He thought he was writing poems sometimes in his thoughts, but the poems would not come out of his hands. The words stuck in odd configurations and made patterns that raced across the screen of his shut eyes and off the edge, down his temples into the darkness of his neck.
The Reptile Garden It wasn’t something that we talked about—love—and I was terrified of its expression from the lips of my parents. But they allowed me this one clear look at it. Their love blazed from them. And then they left. I think now that everything that was concentrated in that one look—their care in raising me, their patient lessons in every subject they knew to teach, their wincing efforts to give me freedoms, their example of fortitude in work—allowed me to survive myself.



It was the era of romantic self-destruction. I was especially interested in those who died young, went crazy, disappeared, and went to Paris.

text checked (see note) Jun 2012

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