October 29, 2005 Honolulu

It’s still dark here. What can’t be seen moves deftly through the courier winds.
I take count of all the events that have brought me here
To this island, to this female native body that has now turned
It’s steps toward death. We are all going somewhere, that’s true
Or we dream we are—for a week now I have been both the dreamer of my dreams--and the watcher of my dreams, as now. And I don’t
Know which is which, who is writing the song, who is singing it and who
Has decided to become the songs of these winds.
They are familiar, these winds. Called in English: trade winds. Called by
The watcher: the winds who always come during this season to delight or stun us with knowledge from the rest of the spin. Refresh us.
I want to know more than I know so I thank this lanky, weary body.
It’s the observation post in a healing field.
The outline is the definition: it’s a pre-dawn sky, a dark contemplative moon, the weave of the perfume of naupakapaka, and the wreck of unpacking.
So now, you’re being too literal. This is how you were taught to negotiate
In the schools of the conquerors.
But how can you know the songs these winds bear if you know only
How to count in English, and know not the spirits of the numbers?
How they travel.


Toronto Doings

October 19, 2005 Toronto

On the road: I arrived in Toronto Monday night. No hassle at customs. The person assigned to pick me up didn’t show, so took a car in. Flying so quickly across lands, waters and sky and earth territories can make you forget yourself. It usually takes me a few days to remember myself. The soul can travel faster than the speed of light, but traveling by plane is rough.

I stumbled into Brian Wright-McLeod’s Renegade Radio Show at 8PM a few hours later. His new book is out from the University of Arizona Press: The Encyclopedia of Native Music. (See note following.) He played “This is My Heart”, “Fear” and the “Had-It-Up-To Here Round Dance.” We visited. I caught a taxi back to my digs and was regaled by the Chinese taxi driver’s story of meeting up with an alien when he was a child in China.

Tuesday I spent in solitude: rehearsing and practicing my set list (a proposal of 18 tunes, including Desireless and Europa). To dinner with G. F. who helped set up the gig with Hugh’s Room. (See poster announcement.) I will be playing with the Shane Anthony Band Thursday night. He took me to Hugh’s Room. We heard an amazing guitar player/singer Kelly Joe Phelps. Scoped it out. Intimate. Excellent sound. People come to hear the performances. That’s good to know. The last and only time I played in a club was at Indian Market several years ago with Poetic Justice. The infamous R. R. asked us to open for him at a restaurant on Canyon Road. We were in the middle of our set when word went out that Kevin Costner was in the audience. R.R. and his band squeezed us mid-song off the tiny little stage. We had to pass our equipment out the side window. He didn’t pay us either. We eventually got the money from his manager who was embarrassed by his behavior.

We’ll see what happens here. Wednesday we rehearsed. Had to cut tunes. The sets are way too long. Decided to cut among others Desireless and Europa. I didn’t have charts—and they were the least developed. If I play them I want to make them my own, not do someone else’s arrangements. More work, beloved work. Somehow have to balance it all. Great musicians. I’m looking forward to it. Getting revved up. Have been for weeks. Was hesitant to accept the gig in the first place. G.F. said they were jazz musicians. The only other gig I had played with jazz musicians was in San Fran a few years ago. My appearance was only a set. Two wonderful musicians: I’d met with them, laid out the tunes. We need to rehearse, I said. No, they said, we don’t need to rehearse. I made sure they had my notes, chords, semi-charts and recordings of the tunes so they could be ready. On the downbeat they went off into free jazz mode and I was left standing there trying to find my way into what didn't appear to be my songs anymore. That was the worst gig I ever had. Wasn’t reimbursed for my room for one night, either. So it goes. Makes a good story.

That’s what I told myself a few years ago as I walked along the New Jersey Turnpike dragging my bags at 2A.M. one dark morning. This will make a good story. And it did. Maybe I’ll save that for next time.

Couldn't download the Hugh's Room Poster. It goes something like this:
AVR and Laughing Dog Productions Presents: JOY HARJO AND THE SHANE ANTHONY BAND, HUGH'Sroom, 2261 Dundas St. West, October 20th 8:30 PM. $15 at the door, $13 in advance.
Also check out:

The Encyclopedia of Native Music
More Than a Century of Recordings from Wax Cylinder to the Internet
Brian Wright-McLeod.
University of Arizona Press

464 pp. / 47 halftones / 7 x 10 / 2005
Paper (9780816524488) $26.95
Cloth (9780816524471) $55.00

Want the word on Buffy Sainte-Marie? Looking for the best powwow recordings? Wondering what else Jim Pepper cut besides "Witchi Tai To"? This book will answer those questions and more as it opens up the world of Native American music.
In addition to the widely heard sounds of Carlos Nakai’s flute, Native music embraces a wide range of forms: country and folk, jazz and swing, reggae and rap. Brian Wright-McLeod, producer/host of Canada’s longest-running Native radio program, has gathered the musicians and their music into this comprehensive reference, an authoritative source for biographies and discographies of hundreds of Native artists.
The Encyclopedia of Native Music recognizes the multifaceted contributions made by Native recording artists by tracing the history of their commercially released music. It provides an overview of the surprising abundance of recorded Native music while underlining its historical value.
With almost 1,800 entries spanning more than 100 years, this book leads readers from early performers of traditional songs like William Horncloud to artists of the new millennium such as Zotigh. Along the way, it includes entries for jazz and blues artists never widely acknowledged for their Native roots—Oscar Pettiford, Mildred Bailey, and Keely Smith—and traces the recording histories of contemporary performers like Rita Coolidge and Jimmy Carl Black, "the Indian of the group" in the original Mothers of Invention. It also includes film soundtracks and compilation albums that have been instrumental in bringing many artists to popular attention. In addition to music, it lists spoken-word recordings, including audio books, comedy, interviews, poetry, and more.
With this unprecedented breadth of coverage and extensively cross-referenced, The Encyclopedia of Native Music is an essential guide for enthusiasts and collectors. More than that, it is a gateway to the authentic music of North America—music of the people who have known this land from time immemorial and continue to celebrate it in sound.
Brian Wright-McLeod (Dakota-Anishnabe) began working as a music journalist in 1979. His column "Dirty Words and Thoughts about Music" appears bimonthly in News from Indian Country. His activist work in Native rights took him to the airwaves on CKLN 88.1 FM in Toronto in 1985, where he continues to produce and host Renegade Radio, a live two-hour weekly music and issues program.
See other books on Native Americans


Two Offerings

May Your Journey Be Beautiful
(Final, final version)

A little rain has blanketed the earth
Swallows fly out for breakfast from their adobe house:
Above the door of this adobe, and we fly up from sleep—
The Sun’s great house is shimmering. We smell gratitude,
And relish breakfast.
Where did these bananas come from? And who picked the coffee?
Did anyone sing to the young plants,
Pushing urgently from the creative earth?
It’s all happening at the kitchen table: we visit: talk politics.
Who’s fired; who’s hot and not, who’s left and who will return, and how
The price of gas is a perk given to the flunkies of ruin.
The train runs through the pueblo making rough music but doesn’t stop.
We joke: it’s laden with uranium, cattle and oil.
It’s going somewhere else for now. They’ll dump the scraps here later.
We get the politics, just how are we going to dance past this pain?
We needed a little rain.
Later I walk concrete in town to the tribal summit
Datura flowers are closing; someone has to stand guard with the night.
Even mystery needs to be held tenderly.
A Dineh brother stumbles up from the dark with his hands open, for rain:
Hey aren’t you the musician? He asks me for money, for a drink.
I ask him for his name.
We visit, talk politics: it’s the same.
We needed a little rain.
Rain. Rain.
May your journey be beautiful from the sky to this hungry earth.

c Joy Harjo September 2005 Albuquerque


I asked the sparrow without speaking--
As the sun graced the field behind the hotel
Breaking through sorrow.
A dog barks at a man walking to work
Carrying lunch in a paper bag
Or at the yellow cat elegantly picking her way
Along the metal fence
Placed to keep the poor out.

Another swollen whirlpool of anger
Rolls in along the Gulf
The dancers in the storm are dressed in red
And pus yellow.
They are not of this world and have
Emerged from debris
In the oil fields.
They are the metal pulse speeding up
The rhythm.
Is this a dream and is it really happening?

Lightning came to eat from a bowl
Offered to the storm.
Didn’t know whether it was a dream,
Or if it was really happening?

This morning I will open my eyes into the fourth world
And pull on a light skin
Constructed of dreams as old as the first breath of stars.
I will step down from sleep with feet
As familiar as roving deer
In a nation of pines.
I will wash my face in the sink and know I am kneeling at a river
Near home.
I will answer my phone and say hello,
I will know this is a dream
And it is really happening.

c Joy Harjo September 23, 2005 Tucson


June Jordan Tribute, in Honor of her posthumous collected poems, Directed by Desire, Copper Canyon Press, October 6, 2006, New York City

This was the morning of the fourth day of the birth of my fourth granddaughter. This is the day we offer her spirit to the sun, for acknowledgement, for a blessing. What do I offer her on this day, when I am far away, at the eastern edge of the empire?
There is no question: these are strange and difficult times. This morning as I prepared for this tribute for the warrior poet June Jordan who graced our path, I walked from my hotel to Times Square and brought June with me. There in the middle of the city we stood amazed at the 21st century totem pole made of digital flash and neon. Holding up the bottom, the root power was the New York City Police Department. NYCPD was lit up in blue and red. This power symbol continued to rise up above the city, a stack of multinational corporations, the topmost image a flashy cup of noodle soup from a Japanese manufacturer. This is it: the starting point, or should I say, the ending point?
Then I heard her say as we continued to ponder the shape and soul of this day:

"And I got to thinking about the moral meaning of memory… [A]nd what it means to forget, what it means to fail to find and preserve the connections with the dead whose lives you, or I, want or need to honor with our own." 
—June Jordan

As always June once again turned me towards what matters, and the how and why, of how we consider the sacredness of this life, take memory into our hands to literally construct a future, a city, a state, an earth we can live in together, all of us, with laughter, song, dance and some sense, some common sense.

Funny how she now fits into this Milky Way of memory as one of the shining stars of connection. We turn to her, and will continue to turn to her, just as she turned to the poets, singers, the visionaries of justice in this whole world, to guide us through—It is because of this urgent need to know the truth and the shape and music of justice that I looked for and found the poetry of June Jordan. I was looking for a voice, for someone to make sense of this heavy memory I was carrying. It was the memory of my parents, their parents, the memory of the very land itself, the memory of all of us.

Tonight I offer this granddaughter, who has joined us in the promise of this place, the words and spirit of the warrior poet June Jordan.

“Grand Army Plaza” from Passion probably isn’t June’s most-known poem, or her best. What intrigues me is the address of contradiction, and the final wisdom imparted by the journey of the poem through the territory of history, politics and sex—all at once. Part of the power of June’s overall poetic vision comes from acknowledging contradictions: the contradictions of loving, of war, the contradictions of the phrase itself: “civil war”. This is quintessential June.

Grand Army Plaza
(for Ethelbert)
Why would anybody build a monument to civil war?

The tall man and myself tonight
we will not sleep together
we may not
either one of us
in any case
the differential between friend and lover
is a problem
definitions curse
as nowadays we’re friends
we were lovers once
while overarching the fastidious the starlit
that softens space between us
is the history that bleeds
through shirt and blouse

the stain of skin on stone

But on this hard ground curved by memories
of union and disunion and of brothers dead
by the familiar hand
how do we face to face a man
a woman
and reaching still toward the kiss that will
not suffocate?

We are not survivors of a civil war

We survive our love
because we go on

June Jordan

When I remember June to my granddaughter, I will tell her what I have committed to memory: June’s laugh and her love of laughter, her love of justice, of architectures of political and economic possibilities, a love for the poets (like those assembled here*), a love of forgers of elegant sense: like Angela Davis, R. Buckminster Fuller and Malcom X, her love of intrigue, of beauty in human form and thought form, a love of music however it happens to occur: on the dance floor of earthy jazz or the amazing somewhere else.

I will tell her of the being-in-love shine that was June. I will urge this girl to be in love with the possibilities for poetry to heal and give voice to the voiceless. I will tell her to make justice in the world; to give herself over to the very elements of poetry itself and use them to imagine a vision of perfection in this place.

And finally, on the evening of this fourth day since my granddaughter’s birth into this web of memory, I will remind her that in this legacy of June: there is no easy love. This love that holds us together is not a complacent or stupid falling off a cliff love. This love is not a long-suffering or a selfish love. It is a love with boxing gloves, a love with a tongue for truth and surprise, no matter the consequences. She will absolutely need this love for her part in hammering together and imagining the fifth day, the fifth world.

c Joy Harjo October 6, 2005

(Refrain on saxophone from Don Cherry’s “Desireless”.)

* Cornelius Eady, Laura Flanders, Bob Holman, Jan Heller Levi, Yusef Komunyakaa, Donna Masini, Sara Miles, Honor Moore, Junitsu Semitsu, Shelagh Patterson, and Adrienne Rich.