IWAS SO SMALL I could barely see over the top of the back seat of the black Cadillac my father bought with his
Indian Oil money. He polished and tuned
his car daily. I wanted to see everything.
This was around the time I acquired
language, when something happened that
changed my relationship to the spin of the
world. It changed even the way I looked at
the sun. This suspended integer of time
probably escaped 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 were
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.
Even then I loved the radio, jukeboxes,
any magic thing containing music.
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.
I didn’t know the words jazz or trumpet. 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 birth of sound. I
Coda JOY HARJO
was suspended in whirling stars. I grieved
my parents’ failings, my own life, which I
saw stretching the length of that rhapsody.
My rite of passage into the world of humanity occurred then, through jazz. The
music was a startling bridge between familiar and strange lands. I heard stomp-dance
shells, singing. I saw suits, satin, fine hats.
I heard workers singing in the fields. It was
a way to speak beyond the confines of ordinary language. I still hear it.
My mother’s singing attracted me to
her road in this world. It is her song that
lit my attention as I listened in the ancestor realm. Secret longing rose up in her
heart as she sang along with the radio.
Tulsa was a Creek Indian town estab-
lished on the Arkansas River after my
father’s people were forcibly removed
from their homes in the South in the mid-
1800s. When they arrived, they brought
sacred fire. They brought what they could
carry. Some African people came with
them as family members, others as slaves;
other African people arrived indepen-
dently, established their own towns. Euro-
pean and American settlers soon took over
these lands, too. The Christian god gave
them authority. Yet everyone wanted the
same thing: land, peace, a place to make
a home, cook, fall in love, make children