Consider the Source of the Story

Everyone has his or her own version of the story. Then you come to find others have their versions of your story. They may have nothing to do with you at all. I’ve heard some wild rumors about myself that are quite entertaining. Someone told me that a meeting of an Indian organization in Oakland that a board member adamantly insisted that I initiated the “Frybread Kills” campaign. Not me. Too much frybread kills. I agree. Too much alcohol, too much smoke, even too much feeling sorry for oneself can kill you. A little frybread now and then dipped in my beans won’t do much harm. And we do need to change our diets from what has been sold to us to enslave us, to make us docile, compliant and fat. I always remember the speaker from up North who first made the comment that since drinking cows’ milk Indians were acting like cows.

The funniest I heard was picked up at an opening night dinner a few years ago for a screenwriting workshop in Los Angeles. I had to miss the dinner as I was flying back from a performance. A “Cherokee” writer who had very recently become Cherokee, or at least acknowledged her Cherokee heritage publically, sat down next to one of my best friends, a Pomo/Miwok writer, a tall, muscular, impressive man who used to quarterback for the UCLA football team. During the dinner she leaned over and said: “Do you know Joy Harjo?”

“Yes”, he said. That was all the encouragement she needed. She proceeded to tell him all manner of bizarre information, that I had an apartment in Los Angeles where strange people came in and out, up the back stairs night an day…Well, I did briefly have an apartment in LA, but don’t recall many visitors. I was the only strange one who came and went, though I had no back stairs…So there’s always some sort kernel of fact in any rumor. I won’t repeat it all here because next thing you know it will start circulating again. That’s how these things happen. When you tell a child: “Don’t go out in the street and play.” They don’t hear “Don’t”. The most compelling part of the sentence is “go out in the street and play.” That’s what they retain.

Of course, he encouraged her. She unloaded her vitriolic story the whole evening.

He called me that night after I got in. The next morning we walked into the first workshop meeting holding hands. (We were not romantically involved.) You can imagine the look on her face.

That wasn’t the end of it. After the final workshop a group dinner was held at a Moroccan restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. I came with my friend and another male friend of ours. I sat between them. We perched across from the “Cherokee writer” and pretended that the three of us were involved. We had great fun. Then, at the end, my friend threw me over his shoulder and announced that we were going to the “Pleasure Chest” and would anyone like to come with us. That was the last I saw her. Though I heard at a conference in Georgia a few months ago that she was telling audiences who brought her in as an Indian writer that all Indians are drunks.

Maybe the story’s true, maybe it isn’t…You never know.


If you've sent email please resend.

Just back from Oklahoma. A glitch in my email account. I've received no emails the last two days and have talked to Earthlink three times. Please resend if you sent me something. Send a copy also to nativesax@mac.com so I can have a back up. Thanks.

More later.


Final draft of Subterranean Back (Yes!) and This Morning, the Moon

The moon, the moon, the moon. We are awake.


I will get my subterranean back, my alligator flapjacks.
I will get my cat back. Ruffle back. Flat back.
No more set back. Nothing cheap.
We reap what we speak.
This is a morning in paradise. This is a night in hell.
I’m in tears after wheeling in stars.
There’s terror on my tongue, a breakout in my gut.
If this is what it takes to snap the trap
Then I’m in. And I’ll begin the story again.
I will get my stomp dance back, my cougar black
I will get my last lap. Don’t hang back
Forget set back. Nothing’s cheap
We reap what we speak.
I need all the help I can get, said the spirit on the street
He was my father rambling without sleep.
He was a house burned black and a war for the crown
He was the belly of the beast, he was the heart thrown down,
Who was missing at the feast?
I will get my eyes back, my eagle singing tracks back.
I will get my stop gap, what I lack I can take back
So I can give back. No more set back.

We reap what we speak.
We reap what we repeat--
We reap what we dream, what we scheme and what we take.

Get back.

c Joy Harjo May 26, 2006/June 12, 2006


Shine (draft, unfinished)

Our bodies are spirit houses. When my daughter’s spirit entered her body she became sunrise. Her lungs accepted breath. She took on the promise and challenge of earth as all of us do when we come here, no matter that we are human, plant, mountain, creature, stars or winds. We all assume the same pact. And when I’ve viewed the body at death, it’s just that: an abandoned house, though essence and memory may linger, because the spirit makes an imprint that continues to generate energy. And this is fed by memory, by the remembrance of those who knew us, by the lands on which we walked, by the house we lived in. It doesn’t go backwards or forwards. It just is in timelessness. When we recognize each other, it’s spirit we recognize. The body just holds the shape. It’s the shine that we know.

It’s shine that compels us to want to watch sunrise, sunset, to look fiercely into the eyes of another. The stomp dance fire carries a shine that links us to the creator, our ancestors, each other and the sacred stories of how we came here and how we will leave this place. It is the heart, just as the heart within our bodies that is the shine generator. Some carry an immensity of shine. The sun nourishes us, as surely as we are fed by fried chicken and greens. Or a place: consider the shine of Diamond Head Crater, or Denali Peak. Stones carry shine. Everything has a spirit.

There is a shine that money can buy. When I spend time in Los Angeles I see this bought and constructed shine up and down Sunset Boulevard, in expensive cars, haircuts, manicured everything, the nip and tuck of features to eliminate any sign of being past childhood, every last detailed coiffed into place. Paris Hilton has this shine of money. If you look past all the paid for shine, she’s rather plain, even homely. Her spirit is having trouble breaking through the need for attention. Trappings can mask the spirit if you choose not to pay attention, to not see. When you follow that road your spirit starves.

This doesn’t mean that all public figures cultivate a false shine. Accomplishment and beauty are strong generators of shine; the shine can be genuine. Some people have a natural shine that the camera loves, that our eyes will follow because we are always on alert for the shine. Robert Redford has this shine. Several years ago I was called to participate in a press conference for the Turner Network show, The Native Americans at the Indian museum in New York City. I was the narrator, and for this event, I was the Indian. I walked out to a wall of cameras between Redford and Ted Turner. This was the moment in my life that I was the most and least obvious in the world. As I sat unnoticed between these two while they fielded questions—I was intrigued by Redford. Despite the attention, he was humble. He knew how to act. His spirit sat squarely within his body and radiated confidence. He absolutely believed in himself and was there because of high ideals. His shine was coherent and inspired. This makes a quality that we all want to be near.

We eat shine: it’s the sun in our fruits and vegetables, and the energy of water. And our words, thoughts and acts as we move about the business of our lives either radiate shine or the opposite of shine: fear.

I walked away from the church, the false doctrines, judgment and racism I experienced there. It was the church that taught me to fear what my spirit knows, to dislike myself for being Indian and female. Yet I loved the stories, songs and talking of higher states of knowing and being.

There’s a song I loved from Sunday school that spoke to me about shine, no soldiers marching to war; it flew past dogma and the impaction of fear. Here it is in English and Mvskoke, from my friend Rosemary McCombs Maxey:

This lit-tle light of mine, I’m gon-na let it shine.
Kul-ku-ce cv-na-kē, hv-ya-yi-ca-res,

This lit-tle light of mine, I’m gon-na let it shine.
Kul-ku-ce cv-na-kē, hv-ya-yi-ca-res,

This lit-tle light of mine, I’m gon-na let it shine.
Kul-ku-ce cv-na-kē, hv-ya-yi-ca-res,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. (This is the command form and says "Let it light.")
Kul-ke-kvs, kul-ke-kvs, kul-ke-kvs.

The stanzas in the hymnal continue:
Every where I go….
All-through the night …

This love I have… 
This hope I have… 
This faith I have…
This peace I have…

(notes to be continued)


An Opening

Here is a door, an opening.
Through trees, volcanoes and skies.
With permission of the guardians of trees, volcanoes and skies.



IN HONOR OF WILLIAM TIGER, or as we all called him, TIGER

October 17, 1940--June 4, 2006
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma--Honolulu, Hawaii

A beloved friend

June and July Schedule

Muscogee Creek 4H Camp, June 19-21, Okmulgee, Oklahoma. "Muscogee Song Making" with Joy Harjo and Rosemary Maxey

Keynote Performance, Summer Taos Writers' Conference, Sagebrush Conference Center, Taos, NM 8PM and,

July 11th, Performance, Bread Loaf School of English, St. John's College, Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Learning to Be or Mvskoke Meditiation

June 2, 2006 Friday Honolulu

I don’t know that there’s a word for meditation in the Mvskoke language. Maybe some things don’t need words. Maybe words can narrow rather than open up meaning and understanding. What I call meditation is paying attention, listening and being grateful. This means remembering and utterly knowing there is no separation between the human spirit and that of the redbird-person spirit, or that of the winds who live in the Ko’olau’s, or your ancestors and yourself, the ocean, or any other manifestation of life as it happens as you are breathing and taking in the gifts of life. Most of all, perhaps, it’s stopping thinking.

Thinking has become too prevalent in this culture. It has been given power over good old common sense, even. I’m good at thinking. I’ve been taught all too well how to think. I even got an MFA, in thinking. Of course, we all need to know how to think. Thinking by itself, however is dangerous. Massacres and countries voting in leaders who promote war for greediness can happen only when thinking is predominant, when there is no link to the heart, to the intuition. We’ve been taught that thinking and acquiring intellectual knowledge is what it means to be civilized. If this current state of global being, fueled by western multinational economics that give a few men all the money and resources is the result of civilization, of all the libraries of books and laws, then something is wrong. Thinking without the heart is deadly. Sort of like a body dragging the corpse of a mind around, or vice versa. An intellect without spirit is faulty. Intuition is far superior. Everything is then linked together in a common sense that goes beyond a two or three dimensional surface of a linear past, present or future.

I can think myself in and out of failure, success, acceptance or abandonment. I’ve even created demons with my thinking, like the one who sat in my head all last fall and told me that I had nothing to say that would pass the muster of western academic dictators of discourse. Eventually I got control and erased the didactic pontiff though I’m embarrassed to say I did believe him for a season. Shame of generations can blind or make us deaf or dumb. Or humans just tend to buy easily into judgment and fear. I fought, but the fighting made the problem thicker until I was stuck, like the proverbial tar-baby story (an old Mvskoke tale). I was pretty worn thin until my wise self got hold—during or after a series of meditations or stop-thinking sessions. Took me a whole semester. Only then did I realize the ridiculousness of the matter and turned and made him smaller and smaller and his pontificating started to look ridiculous from a tiny man in diapers.

So this morning in the middle of it all I figured I might as well go ahead and share this part. It’s as much a part of me as the poet/writer/musician. Where does all that come from anyway? And even the finest academics and scientists will acknowledge that the most brilliant of their discoveries or ideas have sources way beyond their own usual patterns of thinking.