Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Joy Harjo

By Andrea Plaid

Joy Harjo. Courtesy: keeperofstories.blogspot.com

 

Reading that wordsmith/musician/teacher Joy Harjo’s memoir just dropped brought back that crush with capital-L life I had in my undergrad days : all dewy-new to the adult world, pretty effin’ cocky about what I thought I already knew and wanting to gooble up more ideas from new books and new people, and seeing middle age as sunset-colored horizon meeting the ocean, all lovely and over there.

Harjo was one of the writers in my 4-year degree days who, if you didn’t read her, you knew of her because her name and/or the titles of her writing dropped from almost every Women’s Studies major’s mouth, cropped up in anthologies by feminist writers of color, and compiled by professors in (what the folks at my university) called their “Kinko’s books.” (“Kinko’s books” were copies of individual articles, poems, essays, analyses, etc. college profs compiled and constructed with bookbinding famously associated with mega-copy shop Kinko’s, now known as FedEx Office. The compilations have been since ruled to infringe on authors’ intellectual property.)

Now that I over here in the beginnings of my middle age–realizing that I don’t know everything and being pretty OK with that, still trying to navigate Life’s waters,  and seeing my youth as storm-clouds of not-so-lovely and quite happy that it’s back there–I revisited Harjo’s most famous work, “She Had Some Horses.” Her poem does what quite a bit of literature does well: it navigates life with you, sometimes as compass, sometimes as lodestar, sometimes as anchor. An excerpt after the jump; the rest of the poem is here.

*TRIGGER WARNING: Images of sexual violence*

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with eyes of trains.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their
bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet
in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made
them afraid of themselves.
She had horses who said they weren’t afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped
bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, “horse”.
She had horses who called themselves, “spirit”, and kept
their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who
carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any saviour.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her
bed at night and prayed as they raped her.

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation and self-identifying as omnisexual, uses her words as a form of activism to travel through the systems of destruction that white settlers/colonialists and their skinfolk inflicted (and still inflict) on indigenous people and how that plays out to this day in public square and intimate spheres of indigenous people’s lives, including her own: she talks, among many things, about seeing “rivers of blood flowing under the beautiful white marble monuments that announced power in the landscape” when she visited Washington, DC, for the first time and how a hospital that was supposed to serve indigenous people actually traumatized three generations of women in Harjo’s family. (Source) One bio says she started writing as a response “when the national Indian political climate demanded singers and speakers.” She describes her own work as “a bridge over that which would destroy you.”

And Harjo has received much, much love from several communities for her literary activism: she received the Mvskoke Women’s Leadership Award last year; several awards from the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers (2005, for her movie script A Thousand Roads; 2003-2004 Storyteller of the Year 
for her CD, Native Joy for Real; 2001 Writer of the Year for her children’s book, The Good Luck Cat; finalist for the 2000 Lambda Literary Award for A Map To The Next World; 1996-1997 Musical Artist of the Year for her CD, Poetic Justice); the William Carlos Williams Award in 1991 for In Mad Love and War; National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships in 1992 and 1978.

And she’d probably say that her work isn’t finished, as seen in this clip from GRITtv:

So, yeah, I totally crush on Harjo because I’m sapiosexual like that but, more than that, I love her like an old homie who’s been right there, all along.