Cheyenne Madonna, by Eddie Chuculate
Eddie Chuculate’s descriptive prose reads like the view of the most brilliant landscape painting, the words providing a stark portrait in contrasts in some areas while melding into the delicacy required of a watercolor brush in others, whether the scenery be that of an actual landscape, the rolling countryside of Oklahoma, or simply the interior landscape of an adolescent bedroom and the awkward fumbling crudeness of a first “love.” We are introduced to artist, painter, and sculptor, Jordan Coolwater in this way, with all of the tenacity of a tornado while en route to Galveston Bay.
Writing without hesitation, Chuculate fully engages the explosive vernacular of racism in “1979” before sitting Jordan down at his grandparents, Flo and Zeke’s, kitchen table to drink cheap cherry wine from jelly glasses with his uncle, Johnson L. Freebird, “A Famous Indian Artist.” Jelly jars, not mason jars, jelly jars. Like saving your plastic movie themed cup from the 7-11 or your cartoon character glass from the Taco Bell, drinking from saved jelly jars is something of a particular time. ( However, I did check and they do still make those particular jars though I haven’t seen one in a store out this way in years.) The Welch’s jars were often adorned with Peanuts or Hanna-Barbera characters, others bore flowers and some had even fancier raised designs on the glass. It’s a wonderful example of the small details that are present in each of these stories that make them come alive with familiarity and poignancy. It could be your grandmother’s kitchen table too, especially if they liked to argue over trivialities, the way that some forever couples do at that age, and have a beer now and then.
We learn of Jordan’s drunkard father in “Dear Shorty,”of his Listerine habit, and begin to better understand the roots of Jordan’s own alcoholism. It is here that Chuculate’s ability to create believable characters lets us know that this isn’t a coming of age tale, but the deepening continuing narrative thread of one man’s life, of his at odds-ness with a world that he is completely present in. From escaping incarceration to finding love and the hope of normality with a woman named Lisa Old Bull, as she runs from her own equally difficult situation, we begin to understand the struggle of Jordan Coolwater to either keep up with the spinning of the earth, or find a way to make it stop, to find a place to rest a while from it, the peace of that kitchen table again, long after the people who sat around it with him in his youth are gone.
These are hard stories of uneasy lives, alcoholism, poverty, dysfunction, love, the awkwardness of success as it is carried by one who has seen that it isn’t necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be. Full of heart and heartbreak, with a depth of understanding of the human condition and enough humor to be able to endure it, they are stories drawn from the palette of an intelligent, thoughtful writer about the life of an artist, about the discovery of self through art, and about the hope, and the redemption in, and of, the work.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories.
~ Teri Skultety