The Sunday Poem: Joy Harjo... Letter to Lawson or We Were There When Jazz Was Invented

Joy Harjo will be the headliner for the next Duende Poetry Series program on Sunday, June 13 at 3 p.m. at the Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas. Reading with her will be Albino Carrillo, a UNM graduate and a nominee for the prestigious Pushcart Prize in poetry (2008). Albino, by the way, is the twin brother of DCF contributor Rudolfo Carrillo. Wow.

If you have never been to Placitas or attended a reading at the Anasazi Fields Winery , this just might be the time.

Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. Her seven books of poetry, which includes such well-known titles as How We Became Human- New and Selected Poems, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and She Had Some Horses have garnered many awards. These include the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas; and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. For A Girl Becoming, a young adult/coming of age book, was released in 2009 and is Harjo’s most recent publication. Harjo writes a column “Comings and Goings” for her tribal newspaper, the Muscogee Nation News. She lives in Albuquerque and has two children.

Letter to Lawson or We Were There When Jazz Was Invented

I have lived 19,404 midnights, some of them in the quaver of fish dreams
And some without any memory at all, just the flash of the jump
From a night rainbow, to an island of fire and flowers—such a holy
Leap between forgetting and jazz. How long has it been since I called you back?
After Albuquerque with my baby in diapers on my hip; it was a difficult birth,
I was just past girlhood slammed into motherhood. What a bear.

Beyond the door of my tongue is a rail and I’m leaning over to watch bears
Catch salmon in their teeth. That realm isn’t anywhere near Los Angeles. If I dream
It all back then I rconstruct that song buried in the muscle of urgency. I’m bereft
In the lost nation of debtors. Wey yo hey, wey yo hey yah hey. Pepper jumped
And some of us went with him to the stomp. All night, beyond midnight, back
Up into the sky, holy.

It was a holy mess, wholly of our folly, drawn of ashes around the hole
Of our undoing. Back there the ceremonial fire was disassembled, broken and bare
Like chordal breaks forgetting to blossom. Around midnight, I turn my back
And watch prayers take root beneath the moon. Not that dreams
Have anything to do with it exactly. I get jumpy
In the aftermath of a disturbed music. I carried that baby up the river, gave birth

To nothing but the blues in buckskin and silk. Get back, I said, and what bird
Have you chosen to follow in your final years of solitude? Go ahead, jump holy
Said the bear prophet. Wey ya hah. Wey ya hah. All the way down to the jamming
Flowers and potholes. There has to be a saxophone somewhere, some notes bear
Little resemblance to the grown child. Now I’ve got to be dreaming.
Take me back

Or don’t take me back to Tulsa. I can only marry the music; the outlook’s bleak
Without it. I mean it. And then I don’t. Too many questions mar the answer. Breath
Is the one. And two. And. Dream sweet prophet of sound, dream
Mvskoke acrobat of disruption. It’s nearing midnight and something holy
Is always coming around. Take love for instance, and the bare
Perfect neck of a woman who’s given up everything for the forbidden leap

To your arms as you lean over the railing to hear the music hopping at the jump
Pull of the line. She will never be here again in the break of the phrase back
Before this maverick music was invented. It’s the midnight hour and sweet dark love bares
It all. I can hear it again; the blue moon caving in to tears of muscle and blood. Birth
Of the new day begins less than one second after. It’s that exact, this science of the holy.
So that’s where it is, this incubation of broken dreams.

It took forever for that bear of a horn player to negotiate the impossible jump.
Weh yo hey Weh yo hah, those water spirits will carry that girl all the way back
To the stomp grounds where jazz was born. It’s midnight. How holy.

c Joy Harjo LA, CA 2/28/05
Published in the Kenyon Review
(Photo by Karen Kuehn)

Views: 338

Comment by Margaret Randall on June 6, 2010 at 7:40am
Powerful poem, Joy. Your poems continue to remind us who we are, or who we strive to be, when 'too many questions mar the answer." And you also look great in this picture.
Comment by Barelas Babe on June 6, 2010 at 10:27am
I've read this six times this morning and each time I discover something new - in the cadence, in the images called to mind, in the shape and sound of the words. Thank you for a Sunday poem to savor.
Comment by cc on June 6, 2010 at 2:14pm
I'll repeat and say Thank you Joy Harjo for sharing. The almost repeating of a lot of the lines and words, motherhood, the different places, the bear and the salmon show your great way of weaving meaning into poem.
Comment by Richard Read Oyama on June 23, 2010 at 11:20pm
What a lovely, risky poem of remembrancing and birthing, sound/image, "the flash of the jump . . . the aftermath of a disturbed music," the "impossible jump" of jazz ("priests of the unconscious," Jones/Baraka said), the arrival of Monk's midnight. And a tender nod to Lawson Fusao Inada, poet laureate of Ashland, Oregon. Outlaw beauty.


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