Joy Harjo's Web Log
Joy Harjo posts reports here on her trips and other happenings.
Monday, September 25, 2006
COMINGS AND GOINGS Harjo’s September column for the Muscogee Nation News
Hensci—Early August I was honored to tag along with the historic: “Traveling California Muscogee Creek Show,” (my title) a production of the California Muscogee Creek Association, headed up by Eli Grayson. Officials of the nation in Oklahoma and heads and staff from various tribal agencies visited their western relatives in the LA and Bay areas. The first meeting took place on a Saturday in El Segundo in a park near LAX. Several hundred citizens who had left (or their parents or grandparents had left) Oklahoma for relocation, adventure, and/or for opportunity showed up for the event of speakers, tables with information, food and sharing. I was impressed by the diversity of citizens and considered the gifts of enrichment from each. Citizens included artists, singers, filmmakers, actors, entrepreneurs, professors, storytellers, chefs and so many others. I saw relatives I hadn’t seen in awhile, like Victoria Bomberry who is now an assistant professor at the University of CA, Riverside. She raised three sons as a widow, made it through Stanford and now travels often to Bolivia for her studies. And I met many citizens for the first time, some who had come for miles to be at the gathering. The crowd enjoyed the presentations and stories of citizens from Oklahoma, like Joyce Bear, Pete Coser and Norma Marshall. I enjoyed getting to know everyone better as we worked and visited alongside each other. Despite any differences, everyone was there because of connection to the Muscogee Nation.
Very, very early the next morning we made a caravan from Los Angeles to Stockton, for the second day of presentations. As we drove the several hours north I thought of the journeys people had made from home to get here, and how no matter far away from home we travel, home always lives within us. It’s the root of your being and when it’s stirred up by such happenings as this you feel a little sad and happy, all at once. These meetings were a bit of a turn on the notion. Instead of going home, home came to California.
Those who have stayed and taken care of the home fires tend to be suspicious of those who left. Those who left can be a little insecure about where and how to fit. Despite this, connections were made. I won’t forget Joseph Jacobs from the Holdenville area who lives in Stockton. We figured out how we are probably related on the grid of genealogy. Nor do I think any of us will forget how our spirits opened with each laugh, with each handshake or hug. We had a chance to get caught up on all the stories, the highs and lows. The Denny’s off the interstate south of Stockton and before nightfall will never be the same after our stop. We solved everything with a little nourishment and good company. And many of us feel even more resolute to help contribute to the quality of Muscogee Creek life, both here and there.
I have to mention Eli Grayson. Whether or not you agree with his unforgiving vision, his fierce uncovering of truth, eventually you just have to admire someone who is exactly who they say they are, and will tell you exactly what they mean. He works tirelessly on behalf of Creek citizens, especially those west of Oklahoma, without pay and without staff. He searched out every citizen in California. He called them and asked each one of them what he could do for them, and then he did something. I know because that’s how I met him when I was out there for a job. He knows genealogy like the old people. He studies the issues, history and looks into the future to see how we can all fit together. He makes sofkey and ribs for the meetings. He’s one of the people who will insure that we get from here to there with some kind of grace.
By the way, there was some kind of murmuring out there in the nation about Grayson calling himself “mekko” and some other nonsense. Track down the source and you’ll find someone telling stories to appear high and mighty. Or you’ll discover somebody trying to distract from their own mess. We’ve become easily distractible these days.
Finally, one of our citizens, Stacy Pratt, Phyllis Fife’s daughter is now living in northern Italy. She reports that yes, there are Creeks no matter where you go. She says: “We visited the Vatican in April, and after we left, I was reading about parts that we had not visited. It turns out that in the missionary section, there are some Creek items!...I haven’t been able to go see them, but plan to visit again this fall…Well, my husband just finished making hominy, so I will end this letter and go eat it. We might be in the land of famously good Italian food, but sometimes, a Creek girl just has to have hominy.” Stacy returns to the U.S. in January to attend the University of Southern Mississippi where she is working on her doctorate in creative writing. We’re all proud of her.
This morning as we head into fall I feel like going fishing with Louis Littlecoon Oliver, beloved Mvskoke poet who we miss. He’d know what to say about all this.
August 27, 2006 Albuquerque
I turned out the light to surrender to expanding night
There was nowhere but exhaustion,
After the party for the baby, and three ex’s playing musical chairs.
We danced circles to Pink Floyd and powwow,
Underneath balloons in honor of baby’s first year.
She’s starting to walk.
I’m amazed at what gets paved by the grind of time
By forgiving. Or do I say, surrender?
I should take rest easy then, this day near equinox marking a festival of crossroads.
We had good weather.
Still I tumble relentlessly over this sleepless hump of worry.
I’m restless for vision, the next song.
For something other than the electrical switch that only takes me back
To where I started: an adobe room in a time of decay,
A small life on planet Earth, and what we imagine here.
When Rain called with the latest on her step-girl’s pregnancy,
We questioned what happened during the delicate web of formation:
Drugs? Coffee? Pesticides in the salad?
Or the old uranium tailings that are everywhere in the winds crossing Gallup?
I had to think through the dark and the dark was no longer a beautiful
Pathway to stomp dances in the middle of a field of stars.
Funky, I called it.
Rough knowledge bares teeth in the nasty vortex of this brutal civilization.
Think musical chairs, I tell myself. And begin to imagine the falling away.
Each baby with ten fingers and toes, each dance taken.
The beauty prayer will bear me up and we will get there,
Yes we will, said the dark. Surrender.
c Joy Harjo September 25, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Wednesday Dollar Day at the New Mexico State Fair
Watching Brave Family Members on a Ride
Tosh, Waylon and Turtle
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Will The Student(s) Who Borrowed Books and CD's
At UCLA please return? Some are not replaceable. I'll pay for postage.
(Or anyone who borrowed previously and didn't return.)
Monday, September 18, 2006
Lost Message, and Another Sax Player Heads Home
I sent a blog message for the Ala Wai picture you posted, but i don't think it went through.
I wanted to tell you about the loss of San Diego musician, Sax Player, Hollis Gentry III.
He died , his funeral was friday. He had a Masters in music from UCSD, and was a very talented person, has played with a number of other musicians. Never made it big, but 'Should Have'. If you go to google and put his name in, there's lots of info there. You can download him from
CD Baby: California Easy Listening. His group was called "Fattburger", His recording of "Trail Of Tears", played a lot here Peace, Joan
No, Joan, it didn't come through.
And a good journey for Hollis Gentry III. Some of the finest go unrecognized in this life. I'll check him out.
We Must Be in Hell: From reading while inflight--
Came across an article about some research to turn gay sheep (rams) straight by injecting them with estrogen. You're going to get some really nelly sheep. Might even lead to cross-dressing.
Why not research hormones that make hateful people more compassionate?
P.S.(Any jetlag remedies?)
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Sunset at Ala Wai Harbor
Thursday evening, visiting friends in Honolulu at a club at Ala Wai Harbor.
Entry and exit points are powerful doorways.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Time and War, Poetry Africa and the Naked Emperor
Frustrated at the lack of time to do what I need to do--How do you divide up a day to practice sax, write, do business (including emails that proliferate quicker than rabbits), visit with friends, take care of family, house, errands, creative projects, workout, student/class stuff and dream?
Then I stall out.
Stacked on three days of lack of sleep.
It's not just me. I know others who add to that taking classes and raising small children. It could be worse, at least I am not walking in rags in drought with lack of food to feed my family, or running from militia or rapists who wait while the women go for water and wood. That's also an alternate and very real, reality.
I never thought I'd see the day of U.S. military takeover of private operations of the airlines. I saw this yesterday.
I flew from Albuquerque to Honolulu via Los Angeles. I hadn't flown since the ban on carrying liquids on planes. Getting on in Albuquerque wasn't bad. I bought water AFTER security, still had to throw it out though theoretically I bought it in a secure area. Go figure. There's no common sense at work here. (Reminds me of my bare feet being wanded "for security" after 9/11.)
In LA when the American Airlines personnel announced impending boarding about eight military men in camouflage descended to the gate. They set up a gauntlet of tables with plastic bins underneath and pulled on plastic gloves. When boarding was announced the ticket taker wasn't airline personnel, rather a soldier in uniform. Then each of us was searched for lipstick and toothpaste.
Think: COMMON SENSE.
I have a great respect for warriors. I have a great respect for what it means to sacrifice life so that others may have freedom. I respect the courage involved in facing mutilation and death.
This is not what's going on here. The young man who searched me was respectful, "doing his job". Last night as I sat out and looked at the stars I thought of him, and sent prayers for his life. He really cares for the country. Most of us do. Doesn't mean we agree with what is occuring in our names.
We attacked and took over a country. This country didn't attack us. I hesitate to say "we" as I didn't give my permission. But I'm implicated. We all are. I learned this when I visited Durban, South Africa a few years ago as a "guest" of Poetry Africa I wasn't properly introduced. I was introduced only as "American". Tension rippled through the auditorium. I was never given a chance to be heard for the audience turned against me at that moment. Being American marked me as a supporter of theft. It didn't help that I was never given a chance for proper introduction.
Everything was black and white. American or not. And though I was native I didn't look like the caricature in a headdress, the only image of American Indian I saw there, a logo for a popular fast food place. In that place I was American and responsible for the shameful behavior of the so-called leadership of this country. It was the most difficult moment of my performing life.
(And see, it still bothers me, despite the warm welcomes I've come to appreciate all over the world. I don't take them for granted anymore and have gratitude for the wonderful people I have met all over the world.
If we saw each other as human beings, rather than symbols, what would happen?
If other cultures were seen as viable and important as European cultures, what would happen?
If we realized that what is called progress is just consumerism in a new dress, what would happen?
If we listened wisdom and paid attention, what would happen?
The emperor is naked.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Yesterday I went for a walk along the ditch. It looked so naked. It had been shaved of the mile high weeds and flowers lining it. There was a lull in the water flow so the bottom was now only mud and occasional pools of water. In a few spots crayfish were looking for soft muck. Green heads of frogs emerged here and there. Some sunbathed then dove in alarm at the sound of humans or dogs. One wise frog was not so skittish. He sat out on a concrete abutment, taking in the day. I sat with him for a while to see what I could learn. Frogs are rare these days. Most frogs have been taken out by poisons and pesticides. This wise frog and his relatives were the most I’d seen in one place in years. Neither of us said anything as we watched the blue fall sky sweep by and the scrambling crayfish. At the back of my mind was the stack of papers on my desk, the errands, terrorist attacks by our government, and concern for my brother and his heart. The scrambling slowly unwound. When the wise frog did finally talk he noted that humans used to come and visit. And they would visit in turn. We both sat with remembering as another stream of blue passed with thoughts of clouds. We felt sad at the current state of loss in this world of progress. Somewhere along the way humans got confused and lost the way. Some still remember, I told the frog. I look for them everywhere I go. He nodded. Some of his people had forgotten too. Time pulled us both apart. We had to get on with it. We made plans to get together again. We thanked each other for the visit. When I looked back he was still there, encouraging that crayfish towards a muddy cove.
c Joy Harjo
Crayfish (Mekko Frog didn't want his photo taken)
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Sunday Night and It's Just Me and the House Cricket
For those who sent comments I apologize. I just found them. They're up.
I've had many inspirations for posts, mostly they wind up in notebooks.
Here was my Saturday morning, attending the New Mexico State Fair Parade with friends and family.
I should have taken before and after photos. The parade was an interminable two-and-a-half hours long. We probably saw every marching band, every fire engine and horse in the state. We sat near a street corner holding some unresolved energy. During the parade a police car erupted in a cloud of smoke and broke down there, a low rider car stalled, a vintage trailer had to be pushed off the street, and a shriner in a tiny car broke down.
We all agreed there were too many politicians in the parade. One politician can be too many politicians.
In the latest World Literature Today out of Norman, Oklahoma (thanks for putting me on the mailing list, the magazine is now beautifully designed with excellent interviews and literature from all over the world). An interview with Yo-Yo Ma by Michelle Johnson really sparked me in thinking about culture, and about impetus for growth for Mvskoke culture.
Yo-Yo Ma says: "Years ago in Japan, a wise man told me that if you look deeply enough at anything thought of as local--be it music, an idea, a tradition, a craft--you find that the local thing has global roots. We think of ancient people as being so isolated, yet here is this trade route alaong which religions and music and musical instruments and foods and goods all traveled. Of course, people traveled with them, and the people and the goods and the ideas and everything else all had enormous influence on one another."
I consider the walls many tribal cultures erected for self-defense, for cultural integrityl. We needed them for survival. Now in many cases, they have begun to crush and smother cultural growth. I think of those in the tribe who would throw out anyone not Christian, or anyone who looks like they might have African blood. When I heard that a woman stood up an announced that our tribe "was a Christian nation" I was appalled and dismayed. Our strength has always been diversity of expression within the tribe. The most traditional foster this. Maybe it is too late, but I don't think so. I consider the amazing trade routes we followed and still follow, and the tremendous inspiration and growth possible. Our cultures contain many threads leading all over the world. We enrich other and they in turn, that is, in a healthy system. We're appear to be a long way from healthy these days.
Every day I practice my sax (or as my saxophonist mentor and friend Libbie reminds me, "Play, don't practice.") I say a little thank you to Adolfe Sax. He was born in Belguim, spent most of his life in Paris. He was villified by jealous enemies for inventing the saxophone. The sax made it across the Atlantic, found a place in jazz and American music. It's one of the favorite instruments of Creek people. Even my grandmother Naomi Harjo played sax in Indian Territory. One of these days it might be considered a Mvskoke traditional instrument.
Found another morning glory as we returned to the car from the parade. Or it found me:
And this morning I saw and understood deeply that there was indeed a time of communication between humans and animals. Most of us have forgotten. Some of the animals have,too. Others remember, as do some humans. An incredible depth of relationship has been reduced to children's stories for entertainment. We don't seem to get metaphor anymore.
Here's a grasshopper who said I could take his photo. My grandson Chayson calls them "Grasshelpers".
Please note that the above are just notes, in early stages of deveopment. Take them as such. Mvto.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Please feel free to comment. My remarks of a few blogs ago were directed at a comment that I immediately took off the site. I now see them before they are posted.
This is Why They Call Them Morning Glory(s)
c Joy Harjo September 6, 2006 Please ask for permission for any reproductions
LIMUW: In The Sea Lies the Meaning of the Language Spoken
Some inspiring words from an email from Angela Mooney D'Arcy, who is one of an up-and-coming generation of tribal thinkers, philosophers and writers:
"I just returned from Limuw, which means "in the sea lies the meaning of the language spoken," in Chumash. Every year Chumash from all of the bands--Santa Ynez, Barbareno, Ventureno, Coastal Band-- gather on the island (along with cousins from the north and south) for the weekend to celebrate the return of the crossing of the tomols from the mainland to the island, which is the birthplace of the Chumash in their creation stories.
It is always such an incredible experience and a key model for how we can begin to generate a positive storm...a whirlwind that will clean the air and move us in the right direction. As we sat around the fire one night discussing the state of the world and the massive environmental changes occurring all around us, an Elder said that the biggest mistake Europeans made when they came to this land is that they came with their shoes on. Thus, their connection to this land was severed from the beginning, which is why we are witnessing the destruction and environmental and cultural devestation taking place right now."
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
from The Reservation by Ted C. Williams
One of my favorite memoirs is THE RESERVATION by Ted C. Williams, Tuscarora. I have a copy I've managed to hold onto for awhile. I usually lend it out and don't get it back. It was published in 1976 by the Syracuse University Press. Don't know if it's out in a new edition.
I included a chapter for my memoir-writing class to chew on and enjoy. There's nothing like those old-time storytellers. Even in print in Williams account you can hear the nuances of the voice, see and hear the gestures. And you laugh along with everybody else in the pages.
Here's an excerpt, about gift-giving near the holidays as everyone is gathered in the church, from the chapter "The Feast". The best part in the chapter is the account of the hunting contest and the debate at the feast. Maybe I'll try and scan and include later. We need some laughs, and to learn from this talented storyteller how to tell a real story.
"..Next came the giving out of the presents and here's how that was done. Every present had to have the name of the person of who it was for, shouted out, before it could be taken to that person. So two women were appointed to yell until their voices gave out. The some man referee let in a substitute.
It was my habit as it was most others, too, to give trick presents. Like, I might transfer the label from a tin can of peaches with the pretty pictures of the peaches on it to a can of surplus meat and give that away. Once I found a lead brick that weighed seventy tons and I painted it gold and put a red ribbon on it and gave it to Jumbo. I had to have Ju-gweh carry it up the back stairs, it was so heavy. Or, for instance, I happened to have a look up as the names were being called out and Goth-hoff (give me) was holding up a toy bugle and yelling, "Lye Man." Lye Man had just been in a car accident and had all his front teeth knocked in. Another time Mars was holding up a pair of four-runner kids' ice skates and yelled out Annie Dink's name. Annie Dink could hardly walk because she weighed, maybe, two-fifty. Naturally, it was late by the time that these mountains of presents were given out, even though there was a steady stream of kids taking arm loads 'round and 'round the church..."
Just a bite.
A fine up-and-coming writer Eric Gansworth from up that direction reminds me of Ted C. Williams in style and humor. He's Ondondaga, raised in Tuscarora country. I believe his last book was MENDING SKINS.
Still in the War Years
Thanks to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz for reminding me that Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight boxing championship title and imprisoned for five years (instead of the normal eighteen months) for refusing to report for induction into the army for religious reasons. I had forgotten the weight of his sacrifice.
And for this note on shameful President Andrew Jackson:"....the slave-owning, Indian killer general/president had become an early American success story. Penniless at twenty, Jackson saved his money and bought one slave, and struck out over the Cumberland Mountains for Tennessee. He squatted illegally in Cherokee Territory, and because he couldn't afford to buy more than one African slave, he bought a fifteen-year-old girl and sired his own slave laborers."
from OUTLAW WOMAN, A Memoir of the War Years 1960-1975, City Lights Books, San Francisco 2001.
Seems to me like we're still in the war years.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Storygathering and Be Nice to Animals
I can’t help but think of all the animals getting together to decide who was going to finally take care of Steve Irwin the “Crocodile Hunter”. Irwin seemed like an otherwise good soul whose obsession with harassing animals finally did him in. He was stung in the heart by a stingray while he was filming out in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Stingray killings are rather uncommon. It was a direct hit. Irwin’s face always betrayed a possible death via his heart. I figured it would be a heart attack. Guess it was.
I know this isn't anecdote isn't poetry, literary or musical but Irwin is part of the cultural weave bred by television. I'm a sucker for stories and characters, just as anyone else, be they on tv, in the movies, other oral stories or literary. And we humans will always hunt and search for stories, no matter the medium. My story sources of the last few days include primarily: person-to-person, via cellphone and telephone (the family stories that lately are very disturbing and involve drinking incidents, cataracts, husbands who refuse to go to work, low fishing quotas and excessive gambling), a Netflix movie, the tv news one night this week, a couple of tv shows, newspaper, online news, memoirs, an autobiography, text messaging, a butterfly, cricket, geese flying overhead, dreams, student stories and other modes. It's what we do.
So enjoy your storygathering today. And be nice to the animals.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Suspended c Joy Harjo
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
Friday, September 01, 2006
Stink Comments Not Allowed Here
I recently configured the blogsite for comments. So far so good until someone sent an unnecessary stink comment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but no one will be allowed to use this site for their small-mindedness. (This isn't most of you, thank you.)
Right now I'm so pissed I want to punch out the person leaving the comment. I keep remembering that old story about Rabbit and the Tar Baby. If I throw a punch then I get stuck in their nastiness. And they get a hit of power which feeds the nastiness. And this grows monsters. That's how it works.
Sending out nasty comments about others is not going to help any of us on our journey. In fact, it just makes another boulder in the bag carried on the back of the speaker, and can bruise and make the journey of everybody a little more difficult. We have evidence all around us to attest to this in all the world wars and in our tribal governments. Let's try some kindness. The golden rule was on the slate of the original teachings of all human beings.
So, peace. And keep moving.
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