Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

The Bird is Gone — A Manifesto

The Bird is Gone — A Manifesto
by Stephen Graham Jones

Paperback
2003
Price: $19.95

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Part murder mystery, part declaration of independence, The Bird is Gone: a Manifesto takes Native American writing where it has never gone before—into a future where the Dakotas are Indian Territory again. The Traditionals now cling to their microwaves, while the Progressives live on the grassland with the buffalo. Inside a bowling alley called Fool's Hip, Special Agent Chassis Jones is questioning Nickel Eye about thirty-nine tourists who have gone missing. Everybody in the place is listening: Mary Boy, the Jesus tattoo on his arm still bleeding; Cat Stand, about to peel off her last undershirt; Back Iron, checking the run in his nylons, and LP Deal who, in spite of the AllSkin tournament under way and the swarm of anthropologists at the border, is writing it all down.


 

"In The Bird is Gone, Stephen Graham Jones follows his brilliant first novel, The Fast Red Road, with another work of pure originality and quirky brilliance. No unintended clichés or stereotypes here. With Vizenor-like deftness and completely unexpected moves, Jones is taking Native American fiction in a new, necessary direction. We see a literature coming of age in these pages." —Louis Owens


"The Bird is Gone is the one of the most strikingly original novels I've read in a long, long time. And yet, extraordinarily, its originality never overwhelms its humanity. What a thrill it is to see the world through Stephen Jones's sensibility. He is unquestionably one of our finest young writers." —Robert Olen Butler


"For a while now I have felt that we Native American writers (and I most certainly include myself in the "we") keep writing about the same damn things. Stephen Jones writes with a whole new aesthetic and moral sense. He doesn't sound like any of the rest of us, and I love that." —Sherman Alexie


"This is by far the most exciting novel I've read in a long time. The excitement comes from the author's skill with language, his fearlessness of story, and his multiplicity of attacks. The writing is hallucinogenic, varied, fascinating. While reading the novel, big names in writing came to mind: Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, even Faulkner. Having said that, though, Jones has his own style and aesthetic. He is not only bringing new subject matter to postmodern writing, but he's also writing in new ways." —New Pages


"All natural and narrative laws are suspended in the hallucinatory whirl of Jones' cuttingly funny and fantastic third novel...Caustically surreal in the manner of Hunter Thompson, even William Burroughs, Jones brilliantly and audaciously critiques the ironies inherent in our frontier mythologies, racial stereotypes, and inchoate longings for justice and a meaningful life." —Booklist


 

Excerpt

TEN LITTLE INDIANS


LP DEAL, five-ten in boots, but then he can't wear boots at work, either, as part of his job is traipsing down the alleys to retrieve busted pins, motionless balls, the occasional beer bottle. Once a prosthetic arm. Fool's Hip gives mercy strikes if your arm falls off mid-bowl, but the limit is three per game; some of the veterans were taking advantage. LP tried wearing a pair of the house moccasins when he first signed on, hand-sewn the old way, from the soft leather interior of thousands of abandoned golf bags, but found he couldn't stand up on the waxed lanes. It was funny for a while, but then he had work to do. Now he wears simple canvas basketball shoes-standard Indian issue-dingy grey at the toes from mopping afterhours, and monochromatic coveralls, once brown but long since gone tan, from washing them every night in the dishwasher with the last load of the night, steam filling the room, scouring his lungs. Sometimes, standing there naked and blurry, he sings, his voice resounding off the stainless steel kitchen, over the polished counter, spilling out into the hardwood lanes, but then other times he just stares at his indistinct reflection, the roadburn all down his left side expanding in the heat.


On his application for employment, under Tribal Affiliation, he checked Anasazi-a box he had to draw himself-and under the story and circumstances of his name, he recounted what he could remember of the Skin Parade fourteen years ago, when he was twelve. Him and his mom had been hunting and gathering at the supermart in Hoopa, California when the wall of television sets said it, that the Dakotas were Indian again, look out, and three weeks and two and a half cars later, LP and his mom rolled across the Little Missouri at Camp Crook with nearly four million other Indians. It wasn't the Little Missouri anymore, though, but something hard to pronounce, in Lakota. The grass was still black then, from the fires . When LP and his mom ran out of gas they just coasted through town, and when they finally rolled to a stop, it was in front of a record store, florescent letters splashed onto the plate glass. For a moment LP could have been either LP Deal or Vinyl Daze, but then in a rush of nostalgia his mom took the second name. Within a week the guys at the bar were calling her VD. LP didn't get it until years later, months after he'd lost track of her at one of the pandances, and by then he was old enough to pretend not to care.


He did cut his hair off when he got home that night, though, part of the Code, and hasn't let it grow back yet, wears it blocked off at the collar instead, muskrat-slick on top. His right hand is forever greasy from smoothing it back, out of his eyes. Mary Boy, LP's boss, offered him a hairnet in passing once, but LP declined: by then he'd grown accustomed to the ducking motion necessary to smooth it down. Had come to depend on it, even, as cover for leaning down to the inside of his left wrist, speaking into the microphone carefully band-aided there, its delicate lead snaking up his arm, embracing his shattered ribcage, plugging into the wafer-thin recording unit tucked into the inner pocket of his overalls.


At night, in his cot in the supply closet by the arcade, the cuticles of his toes still burning from the ammonia and bleach and creekwater of mopping, LP unwinds himself from the mic, jacks an earphone into the recorder, and transcribes his notes feverishly. That's how manifestos are written: with fever. Anything less would be trivial, not worth slogging through concessions and lane duty by day, guarding the place at night. Mary Boy offered him the security gig when he noticed LP had taken up residence at Fool's Hip. LP is pale from it, sunless; he hasn't stepped outside Fool's Hip for seven months-moons, they're called now. It's all the same. Another part of his job is scraping graffiti off the bathroom stalls, both men's and women's.


On one of the stalls in the men's bathroom, like clockwork, there are always suggestions to LP, likely from Mary Boy, adopting some indirect managerial tactic or another. He copies them all into his manifesto. One of them was why don't you grow your hair like a real Indian? The time LP found that, he stayed up all night answering it in his notebook, then erased it all before morning, even recarved the question into the stall, to pretend he hadn't seen it. Maybe it wasn't for him. Maybe it wasn't even Mary Boy.


The manifesto is margin to margin, front and back, no spaces between the words, like one long, strained utterance. LP would write on the sides of the paper if he could get his pencil sharp enough. Part of his salary is in notebooks smuggled over from the gift shop. The rest is the cot, thirty free frames a week, and whatever he eats, drinks, and displaces, which isn't supposed to include the video games he plays the old way-with a holy quarter and some braided sinew. What Mary Boy doesn't know he doesn't have to ride his employees about, though. Just let him go on thinking the sweat beaded on LP's forehead in the mornings is from work, from a stubborn piece of gum under one of the bucket seats or something. The lie that works best for LP is that he was just realigning the adhesive arrowheads that point down each lane, sir, which both gets Mary Boy waving the sir off and appreciating the arrowheads-how they're all just a little off-center, just pointing in the general direction of the pins, which will skew the regulars' shot off enough to get them compensating with beer, three dentalia a pitcher. By this time in the conversation the sweat beaded along LP's hairline is a dim memory for Mary Boy, ticking mental shells off three at a time.


Sometimes, too, LP doesn't have to lie about the sweat, if it's hot and dry and the Councilmen are making their rounds from band to band. Then the suggestion LP gets from the bathroom stall is why not get all the arrows back to factory specs, so the Councilmen can break 230? For the good of the Nation. LP's been part of it for fourteen years, now. He knows how to dig ritual cornmeal from the gutters of the ball return, what songs to mumble while doing it. He knows how to look away respectfully when his people pour the tops of their beers off, for the dead. They're thirsty too, everyone is, even LP.


He doesn't let himself drink, though: his work is too important. Part of writing a manifesto in small, angry letters is being able to read what you've written, at least focus on the print. Another part, apparently, is celibacy. Or, one way to deal with celibacy is to write a manifesto in small, angry letters.


It doesn't matter to LP anymore. He hammers at the buttons of the video games in the predawn hours and no one's there to hear him sing down the lanes, vault from tabletop to tabletop and into the carpeted wall, his reflection still caught in the stainless steel kitchen.


He keeps his stack of notebooks in one of the lockers, and never goes near it during work. The best security is pretending you don't have anything to hide, that you're just a broompusher with a skin condition, a roadburn LP has yet to wholly account for in his manifesto.