Dreaming What Can't be Dreamed

Last night the moon appeared to swagger at the end of King Street as we headed into Alan Wong's for a dinner with an old friend. Earlier swam the waters at Ala Moana Beach Park and felt the current full and fat with the moon. And before that learned Greek dances at the Greek festival. Recalled being underage in an Indian bar arguing with a tall native guy from way up North, Chippewa or something who kept insisting I was Greek, not Creek. A woman at a table across the pond loses it. First I hear the bottles breaking and automatically think it's related to some kind of wedding ritual. She runs past the banyan to the other side of the pond with the perfect lotus flowers. The band keeps playing. Each of these events is real, but now as I write them they have become scenes in a dream. Isn't that reality? How reality works? Then we recreate, reshape it according to our recollection. I can translate it all through different filters, like the gel filters we used to attach to the stage lights at our Indian school stage productions. One filter is paranoia, one is fear, one is sadness, one is joy, one is compassion...

So then does energy equal matter?

Tonight I'm lonely for poetry. The moon is hidden under clouds tonight. It's one other night in millions of nights. I still need to drag the trash down the hill.


August 27, 2004 Honolulu

Little knot of blackness
Quivering at the realm of doubt.
You’re there.
I’m here in the perfect little house on the ridge of the island, the tradewinds
Threading the trees, fruit and flowers
Hanging on by doves and mangos
By plumeria and blue water.
And then, no longer here
Compelled to dive
To your heartless heart
Through missionaries in their woolen covers
Pointing fingers
Through lawmakers and their books of feckless laws
And the wall of judges fat with hate
For my language, my face
Down through the hall of hammers, saws and derision
And beyond the parts of the missing and those killed
In unjust wars.
It was beautiful this morning when I left
The harbor calm and the flowers wet with a blessing rain, now
Opening to the sun.
Even the mynahs were trying to sing.
It was like that and I love these winds these flowers
And this water, this little house hugging the ridge.
But still I descend
Past the volcano rim of teeth on the horizon
and the yard of rich black dirt from fire
Past knowing anything beautiful
Into a vaster unknowing
Into this terrible thing
Burning there it might kill.
Me and everything that I love
But, I think, oh terrible rushed thinking
If I can locate the root, the time, the hour
If I can know it like a lover, a brother, a mother
Like a room I’ve lived in forever
A beloved, worn shirt
Then it will not hold me here
At the core
Where the doubt flower has taken root.
Maybe if I trip past the perimeter of the tangle
I will be able to laugh at the critic
Under the stars of hot truth.
I will locate the root
And set us all free.

c Joy Harjo August 27, 2004 Mercury Retrograde



Tuesday morning we landed in Honolulu after six days of a journey and two gigs in New Mexico. Exhausted. Emotional. Happy to be home on this island and sad to leave home in New Mexico. Incongruencies and conflict constitute an ongoing theme here and I tend to run back and forth between. The trick is how to manuever with grace. There will always be tests. Here was the largest challenge given: For the Saturday night Roots and Rhythms Performance, let's keep Harjo awake all night and all day with adrenalin (literally, no sleep at all), set up a late sound check, add two wonderful musicians but literally no rehearsal time for a new set up, start a dramatic thunder-lightning-rain and hail storm on an open amphitheater at show time, the show (with many acts) starts two and a half hours late, that is, 9:30PM instead of 7PM, and when Harjo and her band come on for the allotted fifteen minute slot at 11:30PM have the sound setup go haywire with screaming feedback and her horn mic not work, then see what happens.

That was the challenge. Made it through and landed on my feet.

The next afternoon at Bookworks, with just me and the loops was beautiful. Great staff there, audience including many beloved ones I have known through the years.

And I return carrying stories of blindness, despair, hospitalizations, car wrecks, jobs acquired, jobs lost, heartache and accomplishment. I'm exhausted. Head to the ocean yesterday morning for cleansing. And last night to a concert at the Honolulu Zoo by the amazing ukelele player, Jake Shimabukura. I am struggling with despair there with all the joyful picnickers, though there is lightness all around. This is what comes:


The sun was leaving for the night, as it always has
Every night, every life, every backwards, every forwards
Every despair, and ever joy.
Through the banyan it shimmered there
Over the bandstand, over the dancing ukulele player
Over the people gathered there
To hear what there was to hear from the band
Singing there
And the elephants behind us with their waving ears
And the new babies lifting their heads on their parents’ shoulders
And the buyers and the sellers and picnickers in one breath
To hear what there was to hear when there’s nothing left to be said
All over again, it’s falling and rising all over again.
We gave it what we had,
Then left, with the sun.

c JOY HARJO August 26, 2004 Honolulu


Annoucing Native Roots and Rhythms and Ploughshares

First, anyone who wrote me regarding Washington DC venues please write again. Lost ALL of my emails. Also note that you can reach me via nativejoy@earthlink.net.

Am busy preparing for the Native Roots and Rhythms performance in Santa Fe, August 21st from 7-10 PM at the Paolo Soleri Theatre on Cerrillos Road, behind the Santa Fe Indian School. Mary Redhouse and Will Clipman are joining me for our 15 minute segment of the show.

I guest edited the Winter 2004-2005 issue of Ploughshares, a fine literary publication out of Boston. The publication date is Dec. 15, 2005. Please check it out at the site: www.pshares.org. Featured writers will appear in the next blog. The following is the near-final draft of the introduction.

INTRODUCTION c Joy Harjo Honolulu 8/2004

I used to think a poem could become a flower, a bear, or a house for a ravaged spirit. I used to think I understood what it meant to write a poem, and understood the impetus to write, and even knew a little something of the immensity of the source of poetry. I was never the scholar and approached the study of poetry like a fool in love with the moon. I mean, I am a reader of poetry and know a little something about the various indigenous roots of American poetry. The poetry sung at the ceremonial grounds is poetry, I know even more about European elements of verse because it was/is a “truly civilized poetry” and was all we were taught in public schools. I had to stand quite a distance from the earth, beyond conquest politics, to see the foolishness of this assertion. To assert one form of poetry above all others is to insist on a hierarchy of value that arbitrarily rules that a rose has more value than an orchid because it is a rose.
The first poetry I heard from my mother’s voice, for it is in song that I first found poetry, or it found me, alone at the breaking of dawn under the huge elm sheltering my childhood house, within range of the radio, of my mother’s voice. I used to think that the elm, too was poetry as it expressed the seasonal shifts and rooted us. The elm was a presence and had a commanding voice and spoke in articulate phrasings. I have given myself over to poetry. And poetry like the earth was once decreed flat, then round. I declare it as a spiral in shape and movement. Each strand of poetry curls from classical form and springs unruly forms that often overtake and become classical forms as the tendrils of songs curl into the future.
I used to think a story would house a beginning, middle and end and could be contained within the covers of a book then given a home in the heart. Or that a story in any of its forms could lead me safely away from myself, show me a world so different I would return to gaze at my known universe with a newly shining mind. I believed that myth was alive and was the mothering source of stories, poetry and songs and within this field I would find the provocative answers to the riddle of being a human without wings or gills, or directions to a map for a lost wanderer. I was looking for vision and the powerful and startling and subtle strategies of language, pattern, style, character, and voice would satisfy and even more, inspire. I have given myself over to the making of stories and even as I found them or they located me I was ecstatic, and then bereft. For then there I was again at the same place I started, the beginning of a page or a voice. I garnered hope, but hope is wistful and empty and is like water in our hands.
I confess. At this moment in the time and context of being a writer in America, I don’t know whether I believe or know anything that I once thought I believed or knew about our art of truth telling, of singing, of constructing the next world as a story or series of stories that we will eventually inhabit, as will our children and their children. Maybe we’ve all been through this before, but it’s another version and we’re in it deep. I used to imagine writing as a ladder leading us from the blind world into the knowing world but now to imagine a ladder means to imagine a land or a house on which to secure a ladder. For many of us in these lands now called America imagining this place has been a tricky feat because there is no place that hasn’t or won’t get stolen, polluted or destroyed, and for all of us now planted here, the foundation is shaky thought it is strong with vision, the country was founded on violent theft. But this is what we have, who we are here, together. And we can use the fire still burning there to destroy this place, or build it anew with bricks made of the trash, with fresh, shining inspiration. The elm is still growing there in that yard.
Maybe the ultimate purpose of literature is to humble us to our knees, to that know-nothing place. Maybe we here on this planet we are a story gone awry, with the Great Storyteller frantically trying out different endings. Whatever the outcome, we need new songs, new stories to accompany us wherever we are, wherever we go. That’s the power contained in a book, journal or magazine you can carry in your hands. So, these stories, poems and songs are offered as such, as gifts for challenge, for inspiration, for sustenance.

I promised a contest...still trying to figure it out.


Keep Paddling Keep Paddling

This morning we headed over the Pali with our outrigger canoes strapped to the top of the car, under heavy clouds and a steady soft rain. We decided to wait out the rain when blue appeared possible and stopped to eat breakfast at Cinnamon’s, a great local place for breakfast and lunch before heading out to the beach.

The beach at Lanikai has been called one of the most beautiful in the world. And it is. It’s white sands and literally turquoise waters. We stood out before we unloaded the boats. Heavy winds kicked up quite a chop but we were there and there was no way, short of a hurricane or something else dangerous or stupid that would have kept us from the water. We paddled out, into the wind. Each stroke barely moved us through the water. I kept remembering a story L. told me of a one-man race with relentless winds (winds I imagined were like this) in which most of the participants had be towed in because no matter how hard you paddled you didn’t move. But this wasn’t quite like the story because we were moving into the wind, albeit slowly, like lead crabs. Sometimes as I cut through one of the larger waves my boat purled, other times the bow slapped the water as we pried our way through the chop. It was difficult to find a rhythm but it was there. Even chaos has a vibration that makes chaos recognizable. I was also aware of the spirit in my belly that loved this ocean no matter time or space. This revelation built with each stroke of the paddle. I kept moving.

Strange, it wasn’t until I turned back to catch waves, that suddenly there was no sound of wind. The noisy shredded blasts that had hammered my senses were absent; it was now calm as unruffled blue, as if I had imagined the struggle. We caught a series of small waves, of adroit and quick pushes and flew, then turned back to do it all again. As I once again labored back, my canoe pushed here and there through choppy waters by capricious, muscled winds I was reminded that often when I have faced such resistance, or have been assaulted by attacks of some manner, I’ve allowed my knowledge of my spirit to diminish and I’d ruined hours or days in despair. As I paddled back through the winds I felt my spirit secure at the center of it all, no matter the turning and pushing of the boat, This is the truth of the matter, I realized, and I kept paddling.

c Joy Harjo August 11, 2004


Beyond Thinking

This afternoon in the Diamond Head Theatre deep into the middle of the first act of "Jesus Christ Superstar" (my first time to see it), with a five-year-old directly behind my left ear asking question after question of her mother about each event in the show (disconcerting at first but then I noticed she was asking very astute and pertinent questions worthy of any of us), and the band is directly to my right, jamming away (it was the last show of a held-over run and as the trumpet/wind synth player told me during intermission, they've absolutely enjoyed it), somewhere between a dance number and an interlude between Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ I am beyond thinking. For that moment the connections become clear, that is, between, around and through the actors acting the parts on the stage, the audience acting our part, each of us breathing and fulfilling the moment together. There was a larger sense of the moment, beyond thinking, in the context of the intimate Diamond Head Theatre, Kahala area of Honolulu, early August, 2004, the middle of the Pacific, through the thick of childhood and old age. How to describe it? An awareness, laid bare in rhythm of music, of the yearning of us humans to break through our small and immense betrayals. There is a Judas in each of us and a Jesus. Perhaps this is the double helix of DNA. There's duality, or there would be no drama, no story. And then there's a Mary Magdalene, a King Herod, a young dancer, a jeering crowd member. We play each part, though here, now, we are assigned the one we are in. For a moment I saw the gleam of meaning, like the blue of a spirit traveling in a lane nearby. And then there I was again, the yearning one: thinking about what I'd be eating for dinner, wondering where the bathroom was, concerned about a young up-and-coming native artist, reliving an old betrayal, and wrestling a ghost, far away from the moment in less than a snap of finger of time.

c Joy Harjo Reporting from the Front (or the Back), late summer 2004


Throwaway Culture/Warrior of These Times

This is a throw away culture…throwaway diapers, throwaway lighters, throwaway cameras, and throwaway people. If you’re over forty, you’re thrown away in the mainstream American imagination.


Warrior of These Times

Let's honor EDUARDO DELACRUZ, a NYPD officer on trial in New York City for refusing to arrest a homeless man.


Forget Fly Away

Okay. Scratch the lyric, Fly Away. Not there yet. Not at all. It works with the music but too many cliches. Yet. Most poems I work on for sometime, though some come nearly all at once. The crafting takes time, a focused ear, and a feel. Like the horn,too.

I'm thinking about a contest for readers of this blog to win a copy of the Native Joy for Real. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, late. No high thoughts. No low thoughts. It's all one thought. Below me are the lights of Honolulu. One of the late Mainland flights to San Francicso or Los Angeles lifts off. Birds are quiet. No gecko chirps. Worked out several tunes on my tenor ukelele. No words. Sometimes have to step back, or step off. The wild zone is beyond thinking.

CD Report:

Will be signing after the Native Roots and Rhythms show in Santa Fe August 21st, and on August 22nd at Bookworks in Albuquerque on Rio Grande Blvd. at 3PM. Hope to see you there. If anyone knows any Washington DC contacts for September please advise.



Fly Away

Another late balmy evening. Spent a few hours working on tunes for the Native Roots and Rhythms Show I'll be playing in Santa Fe on August 21st with the wonderful musicians Mary Redhouse and Will Clipman. (Both play with Carlos Nakai). Inspired by the saxophonist David Choy after the Hawaii Jazz Festival Swing show last Friday night at the Hawaii Theater. Incredible player: has skill, technique, feel and over all brilliance.

So much of playing is about the nuance of silence.

And maybe that's what I'm getting at here tonight as another family of tradewinds returns up here in Alewa Heights. So easy to fill it up with everything: being a record company*, a book of stories due, the daily practice of voice and saxophone, house stuff, family stuff, friends, life, and now these new songs that want to be written and are keeping me up late. Here's the lyrics of a new tune that I'm in the middle of arranging. It's copyrighted. Still in process. It's not poetry. Lyrics in standard song forms are so much different. And some become poetry, some not. Still some editing and rewriting to do. The original light of impulse on this one fueled by a conversation with a family member about familial historic tragedies and likely impending ones. We will all leave this earth. Some sooner than others.

Fly Away
c Joy Harjo

There is no easy way to turn and walk the other way
Though there are doorways,
And afterwards, there�s never words
To say what can�t be said

If I were a red bird I�d sing it
Or a blackbird, I�d wing it.
But I�m standing here in yesterday.
Downing back the fears.

There we are in our childhood suits, waving
Back the troubles.
Who�s to say what�s right, what�s wrong?
We take what we can carry.

If I were a red bird I�d sing it
Or a blackbird, I�d wing it
But I�m standing here in yesterday.
Downing back the fears.

We might be born a thousand times each day
That means a thousand ends are blooming.
Fly away and don�t look back
We�ll keep what�s ours to keep

If I were a red bird I�d sing it
Or a blackbird, I�d wing it.
I�m being tempted by some sweet, sweet winds
Beyond laughter, or tears.

Fly away and don�t look back
In your pretty red jacket
Fly away, in your shiny black
One day I�ll follow

c Joy Harjo, Katcv Publishing (Katcv means big cat in the Mvskoke language)

*Native Joy for Real is for sale on Amazon.com. NOW. Also from SOAR Records. And from P.O.Box 831, Glenpool, OK (see website).