A Colorful Tapestry of "Heritage"

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
Heritage,Linda Hogan’s poem “Heritage” combines traits from her mother and father, and teachings from her family to explore her love for her Chickasaw heritage.

Submitted: April 25, 2011

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Submitted: April 25, 2011

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A Colorful Tapestry of “Heritage”
Contemporary writers often use poetry to delve deeper into oneself.  Linda Hogan’s poem “Heritage” combines traits from her mother and father, and teachings from her family to explore her love for her Chickasaw heritage. Through the use of eloquent writing, she searches her own thoughts, looking for acceptance from herself. Hogan’s father is Chickasaw, and her mother was of Nebraskan settler (eNotes). The perspective this author uses is the little girl within, her own voice; the voice acts as a tool helping the poet search her past to find meaning in her heritage and exposes the shame she has for her own two colors, white and brown. While she grows up in a two-colored world, she struggles to feel at home and to be comfortable within her skin. Hogan’s use of strong imagery and color throughout the poem conveys strong feelings and weaves a tapestry of memories that comforts her dual Anglo/Native American heritage.
Hogan weaves white threads together searching her memory looking deep into the whiteness that her mother gave her; while spending time with her Chickasaw family.  In the line “She left the large white breasts that weigh down my body,” the poet exposes her mother whiteness (5-6).  Notice how she used the words “weigh down,” as if it’s a heavy burden to carry the whiteness (5). The poets disassociates herself from her own breast, she refers to them as they were her mothers and not her own.  Hogan is separating herself from the white threads that bind her two colors together.  At this rate her tapestry is going to be all brown. What is white without black?  Or in this case, white without brown.  While she is separating the white and brown thread form the tapestry, she is faced with the joining of her two colors again when she talks to her grandmother and an unfortunate spill happens.  Her grandmother’s “can full of black saliva spilled on [her]” creating a large dark earthy stain on the young granddaughter’s shirt (24-25). “My whiteness a shame” fills her young mind (30).  Hogans memory of the “brown stain” on a white shirt is a strong image that conveys combining two threads of color that ultimately makes up her genetics.  The earthy colored stain on her shirt is a symbol of her home land Oklahoma and a symbol of the brown threads that weave her into the Chickasaw family tapestry.  She is part of the land and the land is part of her no matters were she goes as if her genetics have been stained as well. Clearly Hogan is searching her memories to help comfort her differences.
Hogan explores the Chickasaw side of her family by looking at shared colors and traits that are learned over time. “From my father I take his brown eyes” alludes to traits of Hogan’s brownness (7). Although, more than just traits and color get passed on through Indian culture; stories and medicine are also part of her brownness.  Grandmother “whose skin was brown” shared knowledge, Indian history, and stories (22); she spoke about medicinal use of tobacco to “purge your body of poisons” (36). The poem Hogan weaves is one of struggle between white/brown. One third of the poem is about her mother and father; the rest of the poem is about her grandmother, grandfather, and her uncle who “whittled wood that rattles like bones and is white and smells like all [of her] old houses” (13).  She spends allot of effort weaving in and out of the Indian side of her family more than her Nebraskan side of the family. This shows her readers that she has discovered the more time she spends with the Chickasaw side of the family the more brown threads she weaves into her families tapestry and she find more comfort in that thought.
Hogan spends a lot of time balancing these two worlds and searches the teachings from her Chickasaw family to strengthen her comfort.  Grandmother “told [Hogan] how [her Chickasaw] tribe has always followed a stick that pointed west, that pointed east” (41-42). The Chickasaw tribes were always on the move, when they set up camp the leader would stand a stick in the ground so that the stick was straight up and down.  By night fall or early morning the stick would lean in the direction the tribe was to follow.  The poet’s own internal stick leans towards brown. Her family made her feel not quite Indian enough but enough that when she chose Indian as her heritage, her Chickasaw family accepted her. The poem does not state that she has overcome her “shame [of] whiteness”; however, the title of her book that this poem appears in is called; Calling Myself Home, indicating she has found comfort in her two different colors.
Hogan has weaved together through the use of her memory a colorful tapestry helping her to find comfort in her own skin. The blood that pumps through her veins might as well be the very blood that pumps through the Earths veins; the veins that feed the medicinal tobacco plant. Hogan remember the saliva spill then writes, “[…] tobacco is the dark night that covers me” as if she’s pulled down that colorful tapestry to wrap herself up in it (39). She would only be wrapping herself up in everything she has ever known. Taking with her the sense of comfort in knowing that all the colors, whittled wood, teaching, and chants make are with her were ever she goes. That home is the tapestry covering her.
Chickasaw history and beliefs are passed down through word-of-mouth giving direction for the next generation of young American Indians to follow. In the chants/songs Indian law is taught, which helps preserve social order and law. Hogan has learned the traits of her ancestors by passing on stories and history, but she takes it one step further by writing about heritage through poetry. Hogan isn’t writing just for herself, she is writing to preserve her heritage.
 
 
Work Cited
Hogan, Linda. “Heritage,” Making Arguments about Literature: A Compact Guide and Anthology. Ed. John Schilb and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005. 690-692.
"Hogan, Linda: INTRODUCTION." Poetry Criticism. Ed. Elisabeth Gellert. Vol. 35. Thomson Gale, 2002. eNotes.com. 2006. 10 Apr, 2007
 


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