- We lived next door to the bootlegger, and were lucky.The bootlegger reigned. We were a stolen people in a stolen land. Oklahoma meant defeat. But the sacred lands have their own plans, seep through fingers of the alcohol spirit. Nothing can be forgotten, only left behind.
Last week I saw the river where the hickory stood; this homeland doesn't predict a legacy of malls and hotels. Dreams aren't glass and steel but made from the hearts of the deer, the blazing eye of a circling panther. Translating them was to understand the death count from Alabama, the destruction of grandchildren, famine of stories. I didn't think I could stand it. My father couldn't. He searched out his death with the vengence of a warrior who has been the hunted. It's in our blood.
Even at two I knew we were different. Could see through the eyes of strangers that we were trespassers in the promised land. The Sooner State glorified the thief. Everyone and no one was Indian. You'd best forget, claim a white star. At three my mother told me this story:
God decided to make people. He put the first batch in the oven, kept them in too long. they burned. These were the black people. God put in the next batch. They were uncooked, not done. These were the white people. But the next batch he cooked just right, and these were the Indian people, just like you.
By then I was confused.
At five I was designated to string beads in kindergarten. At seven I knew how to play chicken and win. And at fourteen I was drinking.
I found myself in a city in the Southwest at twenty-one, when my past came into focus. It was near midnight. We were walking home and there he was, curled in the snow on the sidewalk, that man from Jemez. We had all been cheated. He hid his shame beneath a cold, downy blanket. We hid ours in poems. We took him home, where he shivered and cried through the night like a fighting storm, then woke in the morning, knowing nothing. Later I would see him on the street, the same age I am now. It was my long dark hair that cued his daughter, the chili, the songs. And I talked to him as if he were my father, with that respect, that hunger.
I have since outlived that man from Jemez, my father and that ragged self I chased through precarious years. But I carry them with me the same as this body carries the heart as a drum. Yesterday there was rain traveling east to home. A hummingbird spoke. She was a shining piece of invisible memory, inside the raw cortex of songs. I knew then this was the Muscogee season of forgiveness, time of new corn, the spiraling dance.
© 1990 Joy Harjo. In Mad Love and War, Wesleyan University.
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