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CMarie Fuhrman’s invitation to begin healing the West

CMarie Fuhrman
CMarie Fuhrman

“Sometimes the job we have to do is often uncomfortable, whether it’s killing a deer to put it out of its pain, or to open it up. It’s kind of that pen too, to open up stories, to open up wounds that need to be reopened to be able to heal properly. I think the knife serves that metaphorical purpose as well.” — CMarie Fuhrman

This week’s episode is an encore broadcast of Sarah Aronson’s conversation with CMarie Fuhrman about her nonfiction and work as co-editor for the anthology, Native Voices. This program was recorded in Spokane, Washington, during their Get Lit! literary festival with the generous support of Spokane Public Radio. To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: In the piece “Aspen,” published in the High Desert Journal, you introduce a deer collision with a car, but you braid together themes of death, sacrifice, witness, and partnership. I wanted to know that moment as a writer, that moment of synergy, when you knew this was the story. . .

CMarie Fuhrman: That story was about the knife.  It came out of an idea that Kim Barnes had given me to write about a knife: just think of a knife in your life and write about it. Of course what immediately came to mind was this pocket knife that my father had given me. Originally it was meant for things like gutting fish and ranch work. That knife had traveled so much with me, including the moment when my late husband had used it to kill another deer. I knew that when I was thinking about how to tell that story, as painful as the story is, particularly the part of losing my husband in an accident, that I could put that emotion and energy into that knife and into the deer and bring those two together in a way that wasn’t about me as much, but really put the emotion into the things, into the animal.

When I was finished, I realized it was also a larger narrative of the west,  and that vulnerability of the deer, the guns, the knives, this kind of moving forward, and how those things keep colliding especially with how we’re trying to redefine the west now. So it became a much larger story when I realized what all was packed into the deer, and the knife, and the road.

I’m  glad you brought up the knife, because I was so curious to know both about the object symbolism of the knife and also the reality of what it means as a hunter, as a woman who has also hunted. What it means to you to carry that on the land. . .

Yeah. I’ll answer the literal part on the land first. I was hiking with a friend in Idaho, down by Rapid River near Riggins, but also where I shot a cow elk in December. I was talking about how it changes when hunting season comes along (my traditional hunting season) and now I’m carrying a gun, a weapon. The intention has shifted greatly. My partner and I spend most of the summer out in the wilderness, out in the forest. When we’re there in the summer we carry no weapons. We might have a knife for utilitarian purposes, but never as something for defense or for harm. So when we step out to hunt, that feeling changes. I almost don’t like myself as much anymore. I’m not just this person who’s there to observe or to be one with this place. I’ve changed my role there. It’s a little bit different, I have to reexamine who I am in that place.

That particular knife I do take with me when we hunt, I do use to gut and skin animals. It has a deep history to it. It has a dark job. That knife then can also be seen as the writer—that will have a deep history imbued in a place—particularly for Native writers, I’m thinking of Native writers now. Or for people who’ve been in the west a long time. Sometimes the job we have to do is often uncomfortable, whether it’s killing a deer to put it out of its pain, or to open it up. It’s kind of that pen too, to open up stories, to open up wounds that need to be reopened to be able to heal properly. I think the knife serves that metaphorical purpose as well.

In talking about killing, or putting the fawn out of its misery, what is our ethical responsibility to other life?

I think that there’s something about finishing what we’ve started. In the second scene with my late husband when we watched that deer get hit: to leave something struggling, to leave something dying without bearing witness to that death or sitting with that death, to just drive off from it and pretend it didn’t happen, we’re not doing our civic responsibility, and we’re not doing our human responsibility. Not just to that life but to this place that holds us.

I can’t help but draw the cultural reference to what has happened to Native people too: going by on the side of the road the “progress,” a vehicle hitting a deer.  I’ve got to get to where I’m going, I can’t stop to deal with this life, or I can’t physically, like the man in that first scene who ends up leaving because as soon as the knife comes out he just can’t bear to finish what he started, or see it all the way through. I think we have some responsibility to life as well as to death. . .

About the Book:

In this groundbreaking anthology of Indigenous poetry and prose, Native poems, stories, and essays are informed with a knowledge of both what has been lost and what is being restored. It presents a diverse collection of stories told by Indigenous writers about themselves, their histories, and their present. It is a celebration of culture and the possibilities of language, in conversation with those poets and storytellers who have paved the way. A truly synergetic collection of contemporary and early Native voices.

About the Author:

CMarie Fuhrman is the co-editor of Native Voices (Tupelo 2019) and author of poetry and nonfiction that has appeared in multiple journals including Yellow Medicine Review, Cutthroat a Journal of the Arts, Whitefish Review, Broadsided Press, High Desert Journal, Taos Journal of Poetry and Art, as well as several anthologies. She has served as guest editor for several publications and is Poetry Review Editor for Transmotion Journal.  CMarie is the 2019 recipient of the Grace Paley Fellowship and about to be a 2019 graduate of the University of Idaho's MFA program where she is the Project Coordinator for Indigenous Knowledge for Effective Education Program (IKEEP).  CMarie resides with her partner, Caleb, and dogs, Carhartt and Cisco, in the mountains of West Central Idaho. 

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