Here's the description:
From critically acclaimed author Jeannine Atkins comes a gorgeous, haunting biographical novel in verse about a half Native American, half African American sculptor working in the years following the Civil War.
A sculptor of historical figures starts with givens but creates her own vision. Edmonia Lewis was just such a sculptor, but she never spoke or wrote much about her past, and the stories that have come down through time are often vague or contradictory. Some facts are known: Edmonia was the daughter of an Ojibwe woman and an African-Haitian man. She had the rare opportunity to study art at Oberlin, one of the first schools to admit women and people of color, but lost her place after being accused of poisoning and theft, despite being acquitted of both. She moved to Boston and eventually Italy, where she became a successful sculptor.
But the historical record is very thin. The open questions about Edmonia’s life seem ideally suited to verse, a form that is comfortable with mysteries. Inspired by both the facts and the gaps in history, author Jeannine Atkins imagines her way into a vision of what might have been.
And for now, here's my notes. I'll be back with a review of Stone Mirrors. It will have some thoughts and analysis, based on research I'll be doing. When I'm done, I'll come back here and insert a link to that review.
Edmonia Lewis is 16 and a student at Oberlin College. She's in the woods, thinking:
When she was given a chance to goAs she's in the woods, she reads tracks in the snow. Some are bird or animal tracks, but some are boot prints.
to boarding school, her aunts' farewell was final.
People who move into houses
with hard walls don't return to homes
that can be rolled and carried on backs.
Edmonia looks at a deer; the deer looks back. Its gaze "binds them, turns into trust."
A boy--Seth--is in the woods, too. Neither of them are supposed to be in the woods. It is against rules. He speaks to Edmonia:
They say you make your own rules.Edmonia thinks that he's breaking rules, too. She thinks about rules.
She was raised to respect fire, fast water, and heights.Page 6
Seth tells Edmonia that he read Hiawatha; asks Edmonia if her life was like that and if it is true that she lived outside. She thinks
Most strangers want only a slip of a story,
like those the aunts who raised her gave tourists
to go with the deerskin moccasins
and sweetgrass baskets they bought
Edmonia tells Seth that
In winter, we stretched strips of bark
over trees young enough to bend, and slept
with our feet toward the fire in the middle.
Here, there's info about her parents. First, her father:
Edmonia can keep secrets. She doesn't speakThen, her mother:
of her father, who, not long before her mother died,
left Edmonia with brown skin, round eyes, a wide mouth,
and not one memory. Still, his name is part of hers.
She won't speak of manitous, good spirits
who may stay within stone, but might warn
with a cracking branch. Her aunts taught her much
that they warned could be ruined by revelation.
The page also introduces us to Longfellow's influence on her, as she thinks about forbidden romances:
...Romeo and JulietPage 11
defying their families, Hiawatha and Minnehaha
marrying despite fighting between Ojibwe and Sioux.
Edmonia is in the art room thinking about work with clay, how working with clay is an art that:
...takes up space
like the deerskin her aunts sculpted into shoes,
the baskets they wove from broken willow branches.
Edmonia is with her roommate, Ruth, who is African American. Edmonia tells Ruth she's going upstairs to help Helen (who is White) select clothes for a sleigh ride. Ruth reminds her that she's supposed to be studying, that she's not Helen's servant, and that
We vowed when we came here to be of a characterEdmonia replies:
that no one can criticize. And don't tell me
you're an exception. No matter how many stories
you tell about your past life in the forest,
they don't see halves.
You and I are the same in their eyes.
I'm not like you.and
My mother was Indian. And my father a freedman.
Christine and Helen (the two white girls going on the sleigh ride) are talking. Christine tells Helen
... you can recite all your daffodils and nightingales and shoresPage 23
of Gitche Gumee, while Seth minds the horses.
It is a Sunday. On Sunday's, students sew blue shirts for soldiers and they write letters home.
Edmonia's aunts roll up their homes each seasonPage 28
and follow signs from rivers and stars.
Edmonia writes, then burns her letters.
Smoke is as useful as stamps she can't afford.
In Helen's room, Edmonia:
... looks through a book of poems, stoppingPage 30
on the page where Hiawatha mourns Minnehaha.
Edmonia hadn't paid enough attention
to this particular poem, or the ends
of Juliet's and Cleopatra's stories:
the betrayals, lost words, poison.
Mr. Ennes, Christine's father, says to Father Keep (a school admin)
... our Christine claims that colored girlPage 32
who calls herself an Injun poisoned her.
In her room,
The bureau Edmonia shares with Ruth is bare on top.
The only charms she has are hidden, a pair
of small moccasins her mother stitched before she died.
A boy calls out
Watch out for the wild Indian.And
Don't take a drink from her.
You gave them an Indian potion. Murderer!
Under suspicion of poisoning Helen and Christine, Edmonia is confined to her room. Everyone is at chapel:
Her throat feels as if it were gnawed byShe wonders if she should run away.
dangerous spirits who tear skin and flesh,
who took her mother, even most of her memory.
There's no end to their greed.
She lies down and dreams of her aunts, who praised
her older brother for seeking a new life out west.
They told her no one can go back.
Once traders brought in beads,
women stopped decorating moccasins with quills,
making pictures of turtles, loons, otters,
and starflowers they'd seen in dreams.
After women could buy cloth, thread, and needles,
they rarely sewed deerskin. Steel needles are sharper than bone.
Even as she grew up, the past was breaking.
Her aunts sold its pieces spread on blankets,
turning what was scavenged into mementos and toys.
They sewed pin cushions and small pillows,
stitched English words they couldn't read:
Niagara Falls and Remember Me.
Edmonia takes out the moccasins her mother madeShe thinks of foods she used to eat and kneels to pray but rather than the words of the people who
when she was a baby. The beaded blue flowers
and fish-shaped leaves are beautiful, but there's a hole
by the heel. Ojibwe mothers left an imperfection
to trick spirits into thinking an infant was unloved,
not worth snatching for the long journey to the other side.
...built ceilingsPage 47
between themselves and sky,
laid floors to block the lands, voice,
an old Ojibwe plea runs like a pulse through her.
Edmonia is running away but it caught by several men who grab her.
No! she cries, then Naw! Booni'!She is beaten and raped.
Back in her room later, Edmonia says to Ruth
Give me my moccasins.Edmonia holds them to her face and breathes in their deerskin scent. Then, she says to Ruth:
Aren't they all you have from your mother?She thinks:
Holes or missing stitches didn't help.and again, Edmonia asks Ruth to burn them.
Edmonia is on her way to a second day of court where she is accused of trying to poison Helen and Christine.
Edmonia wishes she were in the woodsFrom that time with her aunts, selling items to tourists, she learned how to read their eyes and body language. She uses that skill now, in court.
or at least back where she handed sightseers
birchbark tipis and canoes small enough to sail on a palm.
Buyers, turning their backs to the waterfall's beauty
and danger, seemed to crave a glimpse
of her brown hand as much as a toy,
small enough to pocket and forget.
Cross-legged on a woven blanket, she took coins,
traced the embossed reliefs of a bird, star,
Her face stays as still as her aunts kept theirsPage 67
when strangers picked up beaded belts or willow baskets,
then put them back down.
Stillness was a skill as much as the crafts.
The court goes on. Another season sets in.
During the time of Leaves Turning...Page 74
The court determines she is not guilty of trying to poison Helen and Christine, but plans are made for Edmonia to leave the school. Father Keep tells her of people in Boston, specifically, a person named Mrs. Child, who
...has written much about the evils of slavery and wrongs done to Indians.
As Edmonia packs to leave, she
...opens a drawer and grabs her pencils like a fistful of arrows.
Edmonia is on a train for Boston:
Silently, she chants, Faster, fasterwanting to move more swiftly than memoryAnd
or manitous who won't stay under branches, stones,
or skin, but shift shape or disappear like shadows.
She has only the future now, a place her aunts
knew was necessary but dangerous,
as they stitched a way forward with thin thread,
making blankets and baskets too small to be used.
Will she ever again see her aunts hunching over baskets?
Reeds bend when they're damp, so her aunts lifted them
to their mouths, breathing in life. They held birchbark
over flames, just close enough for it to soften, then curved
it into small canoes they spread on blankets.
Tourists offered a few coins for swift
journeys to places where they'd never live.
Edmonia is with Mrs. Childs in Boston and as she makes a pie crust,
...wonders if Mrs. Child scrubs the sink and sweeps floors
the way her aunts burned cedar branches
to keep their home safe.
Edmonia tells Mrs. Childs that maybe she can be a painter like Mrs. Bannister's husband:
Back when I wove mats and beaded belts,my aunts said I had clever hands and eyes.
Mrs. Child's tells Edmonia that she wrote a book about
...a romance betweenThen she says
a white woman and a Pequot Indian. I was charmed by
Mr. Longfellow's poem about Hiawatha.
I heard your mother comes fromPage 93
people I've long admired. Can you tell me
about her and how you grew up?
Still in Boston with Mrs. Child's, Edmonia thinks of her life before she was at Oberlin:
Everything she left, the wisps of smoke curlingPage 107
from the stove, stinging her eyes, the stench of ashes,
is beautiful. She couldn't see that the day
she asked Ruth to burn her old moccasins.
Could she disappear, like those deerskin shoes
or the canoes and bark houses her aunts shaped into toys
to barter to children who wanted a past
fit for children's eyes?
Edmonia has begun sculpting. She tells Mrs Child's
I've begun work on a bust of Mr. Longfellow.Page 111
Not only a gentleman, but he bought freedom
for some slaves with income from his poems.
In Boston Common for a parade celebrating the victory in Gettysburg, Edmonia follows Robert Gould Shaw's eyes as he raises them skyward:
Angels or manitous,(Note: Thomas is Ruth's beau, back at Oberlin.)
clear as water or wind, beat their wings.
Briefly they touch almost every other soldier.
One grazes the colonel's shoulder,
then a man who looks like Thomas.
She hears the feathery thud of wings
under the beat and breath of drums, fifes, and horns.
Are the spirit choosing who will soon cross with them?
Edmonia is in line to visit the works of a Miss Hosmer at a gallery in Boston. She overhears one lady say:
Miss Hosmer grew up near Boston
though now she makes her home in Rome. Her father
did his best after her mother passed over,
but the girl rode horses, paddled in the river,
was raised like a wild Indian.
Edmonia is getting ready to leave for Italy.
Mrs. Child gives her a knitted pair of slippers.
Did I tell you how much sickness can be avoidedby putting on slippers every morning?Edmonia folds them so they fit in her hands
like the small sculptures of deerskin
her mother made when she was a baby,
smooth as a swan's wings collapsing back
into her own feathered body.
In Rome, Edmonia learns she'll be sculpting in a courtyard located in a neighborhood that is convenient for tourists to stop in to watch her sculpt.
People watch you sculpt? Edmonia remembersPage 143
her aunts weaving sweetgrass while strangers stared.
Edmonia is in Italy:
Months have different names, but through the times
of Snow Crust, Broken Snowshoes, then Maple-Sugar-Making,
Edmonia hunches over her work the way her aunts had
over baskets woven of rumor, nostalgia, and some truth.
One afternoon, a wealthy widow with two homes
to decorate orders a marble statue of Minnehaha
bidding her father good-bye.
Edmonia starts to work on the statue of Minnehaha bidding her father good-bye:
Slowly she sees a Sioux man carving arrowheadsPage 150
just before his daughter leaves everything
she knows to live among the Ojibwe.
Edmonia has a dream in which Ruth hands her a pair of soft, small moccasins. When she wakes, she wonders:
Did Ruth keep the small moccasins,
burn something else, then put them
in the carpetbag Edmonia left behind?
She can almost smell the worn deerskin.---End of Notes---
She knows the texture of each perfectly placed bead,
the deliberately ragged edge. Her mother
must have always wanted her to find beauty
in both careful stitches and unraveling borders.