I just finished my last post (will be added tomorrow) for poetryfoundation.org. I'm going to include excerpts here but cannot include the whole posts. You will have to access them from there. Please feel free to add comments on that blog. I am going to open this blog up for comments, after my new website design is premiered.
From July 20/for tomorrow:
First sounds this morning: my soul finding the body, a phone message from Alaska of the “Airplane Song” being sung at the opening of the Eskimo games last night, and the calling, calling of doves.
Inspired by the gift of Eleanor Wilner’s exquisite poetry this morning. (Excerpted from “High Noon at Los Alamos”)
“As if compelled to repetition
and to unearth again
white fire at the heart of matter—fire
we sought and fire we spoke,
our thoughts, however elegant, were fire
from first to last—“
This body is something I’ve put on with breath. I slip it back on every morning. At night I leave it and go traveling, both vertically and horizontally. I will discard it when that opening beckons in the Milky Way.
from July 19:
Today I got to listen over the phone to the calls and cries of the blanket toss competition at the Eskimo Olympics, going on right now in Fairbanks, Alaska. Tug-of-war is another of the events at the Eskimo Olympics. The tug-of-war between white men and native women is a recurring event. The women have always won.
Some tug-of-war games I’d love to see: academic poets versus slam poets, novelists versus poets, East Coast writers versus West Coast…
It can be disconcerting to hear someone else speak or sing your poems. “Eagle Poem/Song” has been licensed and recorded and performed in many different, mostly classically European styles. The poem is transformed, becomes something else. The other recordings or performances become stepchildren of a sort. They make a new life for themselves in the arms of someone else’s music. It’s always a little strange. The words are the constant, yet the context changes. The poem goes from wearing red cowboy boots and jeans to wearing furs, a glint of diamonds and heels—and hangs out in different company.
From July 18:
For much of America I am a ghost. I learned this first several years ago when I was invited to perform at Auburn University in Alabama. The university is located not far from the historic grounds of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, at a bend in the Talapoosa River. My several-greats-grandfather, Menawa (we spell it Monahwee) fought Andrew Jackson in a last attempt to hold onto our homelands in the East. Monahwee’s band of Red Stick warriors were slaughtered. They were outnumbered by troops and firepower. Monahwee survived though he had seven bullet wounds. He was forced to go to Indian Territory, which eventually became Oklahoma. He lived to be almost a hundred. (One of my cousins promises to show me where he is buried the next time I’m back there.) We still have many stories of him. Even after the reluctant move to Indian Territory he once again became a fugitive. He dove between a woman and the husband who was beating her, on the streets of Okmulgee. He had to go into hiding. Justice has both global and intimate implications and is a familial theme.
After I walked the grounds of the battle I began to get sick. And just before the reading I had acquired a terrible case of bronchitis. (I’d never had bronchitis before and never had it after.) The lungs energetically process grief. Still, I had to perform. When I stood up to read I introduced myself as Monahwee’s granddaughter. The audience gasped. I was a ghost. According to American and Alabama state history, we had all been destroyed on that day in March 27,1814.
Most of America still believes this and suffers affront when we step outside of our place of silence in history and walk into a classroom, show up in textbooks, or start casinos like Mr. Trump.
My grandmother, Naomi Harjo, the daughter of Henry Marsey Harjo and Katie Monahwee, played saxophone in Indian Territory. My great-aunt Lois who made art, even had a BFA in art and supported my path as a poet told me that because her family dressed well and had cultivated European manners (their allotted land was on the largest oil fields in the country) most people took them for Jewish or Chinese. How could they be Indians?
Cotton Mather may not have originated the deceitful conceit: Indians are demons, not human beings, but he imprinted that into the atmosphere at the birth of the American imagination. Words are powerful and even have their own lives, make families, after they leave our mouths. Words spoken at the birth of anyone or anything are some of the most potent.
From the next:
From Blackfoot Physics, by F. David Peat p.5, “Western education predisposes us to think of knowledge in terms of actual information, information that can be structured and passed on through books, lectures, and programmed courses. Knowledge is seen as something that can be acquired and accumulated, rather like stocks and bonds. By contrast, within the Indigenous world, the act of coming to know something involves a personal transformation.”
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about his or her religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, and beautify all the things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respects to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of vision. When it comes your turn to die, do not be like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like the hero going home.
From notes written the morning of July 8th, Albuquerque:
I wanted to ask her, where did the bruises really come from?
I didn’t need to ask.
Or knew at 3AM with the wind a train
In the speed of dark
Which is inverse to the speed of light.
I saw her spirit at the edge
Of the sleeping shore.
We were both afraid of the current.
This is a test, said the water.
Floating shit is not a poetic device or a literal translation
The earth takes another heavy breath
And from the first one:
And for good measure, from one of the real poets of our times, Stanley Kunitz:
“When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you have to think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgement of the gift you have been given, which is the gift of life itself. And I think the world tends to forget that this is the ultimate significance of the body of work each artist produces. It is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life.”
Posted by Joy Harjo at 8:20 AM