(after Sherman Alexie’s “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel”)


Poetry by Cody Lumpkin


The hero should come of good Northeastern
stock and be extremely well-schooled, just tenured


in the Department of English. He will look swell
in a tweed or corduroy jacket that he always


wears to his mid-afternoon lectures, even during
summer term. In a desk drawer beneath a dog-eared


copy of As I Lay Dying is his own half-finished
manuscript, a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel


about a once rich family now in disrepair in Southern
Vermont. His young wife, who died in a car accident


on Christmas Eve, told him it might be a candidate
for the next great American novel about a troubled


white family falling apart and the son that tries to save
them, but in the end the boy will drive west. Our hero


will own an orange-tabby cat he rescued from the pound
and named after her. His colleague sidekick should be


of a Southern persuasion from a state like Kentucky
or Tennessee or one of the ones that avoided Reconstruction.


Taller, but with more hair all over (our hero is always
well-coiffed, no cowlicks on his head), the sidekick


will be an assistant professor. His students and colleagues
can hardly understand his theories of antebellum


alienation and warm-climate industrialization behind
his molasses and tar drawl. But our hero knows


the sidekick is a special type of genius, bred from the petit
bourgeoisie of plastic lawn chairs and pick-up trucks


with camouflage gun racks. Their antagonist will be
the president of the university. He must be the tyrannical


land-grabbing type with a Harvard MBA
who holds the hands of rich, dying widows


for their greenbacks and raises up new monoliths
(in the interests of business, engineering, and venture


capital science) where the faux-hippies used to smoke
pot and play ultimate Frisbee with their bandana-wearing


mutts on the mud and grass quads. His underling henchman
will want to be president, as all underlings want to be something


more than subordinate, more than the yes-man holding
an umbrella in the rain, cratered with acne scars


of a battle long lost in childhood.
Then there is the love interest.


A hard-working girl, probably from the Midwest,
whose ponytail and glasses hide a cataract


of brunette hair and subtle green eyes that only the most
observant will notice, like our hero. She will be a graduate


research assistant for the hero and daughter of the president –
to make the proceedings more scandalous and messy.


The sidekick will see her cleverness, the henchman
will want her perky breasts all to himself, but only the hero


will love her. She will want only him. They will take walks
through what is left of the tooth-pick pine forests that remain


on the edge of town and stare into each other’s eyes
in that sickening corn syrup way.


We all want to be that dizzy. However, there must be tragedy
in all this or it will seem too much like a dinner party.


There might be a flood, a fire, an isosceles love triangle
between the hero, the daughter, and the henchman.


Everyone will die in horrible and plot appropriate
ways. The president will choke off-stage on a pretzel.


The henchman will probably be impaled
by a sharp object, perhaps even the spear


from the statue that he erected of himself. The sweet
girl must die too. Our hero will see her life end


as she takes a bullet for him, somewhere in the thoracic
cavity, so there can be an open casket funeral.


He will pass away, the victim of a heart ailment
missed at birth by a country doctor. The dear sidekick


is left to tell the tale and will begin the story
in his own quirky way. He will say, “I love


Bavarian custard cream donuts with skim milk.
but I cannot eat them today. My friend is gone.”