Navajo poet Nasdijj has produced another triumph in his latest memoir, Geronimo's Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me. Although the writer's earlier works centered on his adopted children, in this new book Nasdijj explores his own abusive past and that of his brother, Tso. There's no polite way to put this: Nasdijj and his brother were repeatedly raped and beaten by their father over a period of several years after their mother died. Nasdijj frequently emerged from these confrontations with broken bones that, he indicates, are to blame for a painful bone disease that threatens his life now that he is in his 50s. This cycle of abuse took place within the context of poverty, hunger and instability. A migrant worker, Nasdijj's father moves his family every few weeks. A chronic alcoholic, he rarely gets around to shopping for food or cooking for his boys. Other migrants are too scared to report the abuse to the authorities. And the arm of the law isn't long enough, apparently, to catch up with a migrant child molester.
Geronimo's Bones is loosely woven around the brothers' daring escape from their father. At ages 13 and 14, they pick their father's pocket of several thousand dollars, steal a Corvette from a chop shop and drive it to California. One of their first stops is a House of Pancakes where they pick up a 16-year-old girl who is also running away from home. Her driver's license facilitates their journey since she can legally drive and can check them into motels along the way. Their journey is not told in a straight line, however. Nasdijj deliberately fragments his story, going back and forth in time, slipping years ahead without warning. By organizing his story this way, he mimics the way the human mind deals with harsh memories in pieces that string together in random patterns.
"What pisses me off about the assumption that my life, and the life of my brother, can be explained in linear ways, is, too, an assumption that my father was destroyed in degrees," explains Nasdijj. He goes on to write, "our father was destroyed in a thousand ways, a trillion ways, ways far beyond our limited ability to understand even as it was happening in front of our eyes. Even as it was happening to him, it was happening to us."Nasdijj interweaves his narrative with Native American mythology, especially the myths surrounding Indian leader Geronimo. The author reinvents himself and his brother as mythological "war twins," sons of Changing Woman, sister to White Shell Woman. Each new chapter of his narrative begins with myth, then gears back into the story of his own horrible childhood. In Geronimo's Bones, Nasdijj casts a light on the psychology of abusive parents and children who are so disempowered they don't appeal for help. Some people may find themselves drawn to this book for the lessons it offers psychologists and social workers. Others will be drawn to Nasdijj's haunting poetic style. Whether for its sociological values or for its literary merit, most readers are bound to find Geronimo's Bones a groundbreaking and important new work. Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.