All of these journeys and what did happen? I often write the journey as I travel in my imagination. Pen and paper or words transpose the journey, change it. So I give up.
How do I describe what it was like to perform with Adrienne Rich to an audience at Smith College of over 1200? First there's Adrienne, a force who had brought us all to that place together. I don't remember our first meeting though I met her first in a poetry class taught by Hugh Witemeyer at the Univesity of New Mexico as an undergraduate. Her poem "Diving into the Wreck" is a classic, and it became the means toward a vision of vision possible in a transformative poetry. I admired her bravery in the poem, just as I continue to admire her bravery of vision. Vision requires bravery because you will see what everyone is afraid to see and acknowlege. You will see the wreck. And then you learn that to truly see and know the wreck you must become it. You must die in order to be born. There is a depth to her vision that is immeasurable. To be asked by her to read with her was and remains an honor. That night as I watched her there with the other two honored poets: Cheryl Clarke and Ed Pavlic who gave poignant tribute readings of hers and their poetry, I saw her as a girl, a young woman, at mid-life, and now as one of the best poets this world has offered us in these times. I was once again amazed by her poetry, her presence; we all were, that night. I feel humbled to be in the presence of those who shine. Sometimes they are great poets, sometimes they are leaders like Martin Luther King, or healers who do not name themselves to the public, like the native healer I met recently in rural Oklahoma, or children. One I met a child I met on the streets of Buenos Aires. He had cerebral palsy and collected donations from tourists in his wheelchair. I will not forget the shine, his blessing on everyone who passed there in the noisy night.
Ellen Watson of the Poetry Center at Smith organized the event. She enabled the gift. Mvto.
I went back to my hotel room after signing CD's and books, and saying by good-byes, though I prefer to say: I am honored that we've had a little time together to eat, speak and be with each other in this place. I will carry you with me through the dark, through the dawn.
(A small note born of a different level of thinking than the above....I have a pair of red shoes that convince me that even shoes have their own lives. These shoes cause excitement wherever they appear. The last time was at a performance at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Women surrounded me with: Where did you get those shoes? I must have a pair.They wanted to touch them, try them on. I tried to wear them for the Vagina Monologues performance at Hawaii Theater in Honolulu a few years ago but they rubbed and were uncomfortable. I considered giving them away and couldn't part with them. I kept them, then decided to try them again. After the performance at Smith once again the first comments were about, yes, my red shoes.)
Then I am picked up at 3:30 AM, with no sleep. I couldn't sleep after all that--watched Jay Leno again. I only watch on the road. Most tv I watch is on the road. Then read and made notes on a keynote I hadn't written yet, based on a document that was the basic text for the conference I was headed to in Athens, Georgia: American Indian Literary Nationalism by Jace Walker, Craig Womack and Robert Warrior, with a forward by Simon Ortiz and an afterword by Lisa Brooks. Now you would think that would have sent me to sleep! (No respect meant here.) Instead I was writing notes. On no sleep I got up, washed up and as quietly as possible opened my hotel room door and dragged out two bags and a saxophone. I decided that I was in a dream, and this was confirmed by the moment when, after I had checked out and stacked my bags neatly, a man in a suit and driver's cap walked precisely up to me and said: Are you Joy Harjo?
I slept to Bradley Airport. And the airport was open at 4A.M. The Delta counter didn't open until 5 AM. My flight was at 6AM.
A note here: This was a rare instance of agreeing to a 6AM flight. And I didn't calculate what time that was Hawaiian time...
I was picked up at the Atlanta Airport by a driver for a car service who pretended I wasn't there as he walked back through a maze of crosswalks, stairs and the parking garage. If I'd been a white man with a suit he would have been attentive. I don't take it personally anymore. I recognize the action.
I am driven to my hotel. I sleep the distance. And as I lay down to sleep in the hotel I get a call telling me they are there to pick me up for the conference.
No, I say. I need two hours sleep then I can do it.
And I did. And I did.
Now this is where it gets tricky. How do I speak of all the wonderful stories and intersections there? And how emotional it always is to be in the homelands of my people? And how inspired I was to hear the young up-and-coming scholars, like Lisa Brooks, Daniel Justice (and there are more, check out the conference site at www.uga.edu/inas) and the more established like Alan Velie from the University of Oklahoma. And to hear and see Simon Ortiz (whose keynote I missed because it was during those two hours of sleep), LeAnne Howe, Lee Maracle, Robert Warrior, Jace Weaver (who organized the conference), Craig Womack singing about the stomp dance 'Round Midnight. I stressed the whole trip because I was informed that my keynote was to be "formal". I wasn't the only one. So did Lee Maracle. The night before as we sat in the dark in front of the hotel, visiting, we decided we would hit a Ross or Goodwill in search of formals, to make a "formal' presentation. Lee always amazes me with her brillant vision. All with their shining gifts. For me, the most poignant moment was finding on campus a few of the plants used to make the traditional "black drink". Every note of the conference fit.
And now I'm rambling and probably have been for awhile.
I was and still am in the dream. Once in a while I am reminded of it, like 4 AM this morning when the thought of dawn became possible in the Honolulu sky. I was awakened by memory walking through the room. Then I came in here to write about it.
Another podcast in a few days.
Is anyone listening?