Once I was so small that I could barely see over the top of the backseat of the black Cadillac my father bought with his Indian oil royalty money. He polished and tune his car daily. I wanted to see everything. This was around the time I acquired language, or even before that time when something happened that changed my relationship to the spin of the world. My concept of language, of what was possible with language was changed by this revelatory moment. It changed even the way I looked at the sun. This suspended integer of time probably escaped ordinary notice in my parents’ universe, which informed most of my vision in the ordinary world. They were still omnipresent gods. We were driving somewhere in Tulsa, the northern border of the Creek Nation. I don’t know where we were going or where we had been but I know the sun was boiling the asphalt, the car windows open for any breeze as I stood on tiptoes on the floorboard behind my father, a handsome god who smelled of Old Spice, whose slick black hair was always impeccably groomed, his clothes perfectly creased and ironed. The radio was on. I loved the radio, jukeboxes or any magic thing containing music even then.
I wonder what signaled this moment, a loop of time that on first glance could be any place in time. I became acutely aware of the line the jazz trumpeter was playing (a sound I later associated with Miles Davis). I didn’t know the word jazz or trumpet, or the concepts. I don’t know how to say it, with what sounds or words, but in that confluence of hot southern afternoon, in the breeze of aftershave and humidity, I followed that sound to the beginning, to the place of the birth of sound. I was suspended in whirling stars, a moon to which I’d traveled often by then. I grieved my parents’ failings, my own life which I saw stretched the length of that rhapsody.
My rite of passage into the world of humanity occurred then, via jazz. The music made a startling bridge between familiar and strange lands, an appropriate vehicle, for though the music is predominately west African in concept, with European associations, jazz was influenced by the Creek (or Mvskoke) people, for we were there when jazz was born. I recognized it, that humid afternoon in my formative years, as a way to speak beyond the confines of ordinary language. I still hear it.
c Joy Harjo Reprint or copy with permission only
Posted by Joy Harjo at 9:05 AM