TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 9:15 P.M.
my voice in song.
what I really mean to say.
Moon, moon song,
singing moon song.
Sitting outside the dining hall smoking. Anica, Emily, others. Emily offers a roll-your-own, which I decline.
I say, "In jail I've seen roll-your-owns so well made they're rolled better than machine-rolled ones." Nobody pays any mind.
Minutes earlier, Victor, Tanure, and I talk about prisons and reasons for people in jail. Victor from Mexico. Tanure from Nigeria. Me from Acoma. Drugs and alcohol, Victor says. Disadvantaged conditions, Tanure says. When I say Alaska has a 17 percent Native population in the state and a 70 percent Native inmate population in its state prisons, Victor shakes his head. Tanure nods yes, yes.
The moon, the moon, the best kind of sky is the sunset light of the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly I'm too lonesome again.
THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 9:56 A.M.
Shaky from the cold. Coming down the stairs from kitchenette above, a cup of instant coffee in one hand, a glass of orange juice in the other, almost feel like falling. And more than that. Yesterday morning while Tanure held a ladder for me as I replaced a light bulb, I felt a dizziness that feels like flying. You know what I mean? Not dizziness but flying. I think you'd fall into flight just like that.
I haven't shaved for three days. I like it.
Last night, three artists on tour from China ate with us. Two interpreters with them, one of them white. I asked the white one how he came tospeak Chinese so fluently, which he seemed to do. "Because of the diplomatic corps," he said. I looked at him up and down and said to myself oh shit the fucking CIA. He was sent to school to learn Chinese he said. "At U.S. expense," he said. Kind of giggling, chuckling. Fucking CIA I thought, like I said.
One of the painters intense and interesting. Though I was kind of pissed when he said "it's limiting when artists define themselves within cultural restrictions." I said that Native American artists have been fighting five hundred years for their land, culture, and community.
One of those ways has been through art as a way of life and belief system. I said it was fortunate the Chinese were a majority in their own country, but here Indians are an oppressed minority in their own country!
The Chinese artist said there was current debate in China about the necessary distinctions of traditional cultural art.
I asked the other painter what knowledge there was of American Indian people in China. "Very little," he said, smiling. "Just the Western movies." I had to laugh. "Just like American knowledge of Indians in the U.S.," I said. They had not been able to visit any Indian reservations.
When I asked about the sponsor for their trip to the U.S., one painter said the U.S. government paid for the trip. How were the Chinese painters selected for the trip? someone asked. "There was a competition held by 3M Corporation" was the reply. Okay. Government and business. Government business.
I suggested the reason the artists had not visited Indian reservations to talk with traditional cultural artists was because they were not permitted to do so by their tour sponsor. The white tour guide and the other translator said that couldn't possibly be the reason!
FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 10:02 A.M.
I miss Kelly. Ah, Kelly, sweet Irish Cherokee, serious and frightened eyes. Holding, holding. Afraid to be hurt by me or anyone else. Rock and roll and country guitar. Geesus, Kelly, how could you love such a selfish self-centered fool like me? At the rehab center session you with your best clothes on. I knew they were, I knew you treasured them. Your face trembly and shaky, eyes teary. You just held on and held on. At that point you would have done anything but save me. Because I didn't want to be saved. Saying I love you softly I love you silently your lips barely moving, holding one last time....
SATURDAY, JUNE 18, 7:40 P.M.
So today I decided to take my chest cold to the sea coast and the sea wind.
At one point high above the ocean, I climbed a trail along a narrow, sandy rock ledge, which at first I had turned away from. And then with a quick flip of the mind, I turned back. Said okay I'll go ahead and climb it. With a kind of don't give a damn mind. Geesus, that's what's gotten me in jams before! I even thought of the dizziness I felt yesterday. The feeling of suddenly gliding away, somewhere toward somewhere.
From atop the Headlands granite ridges and bluffs overlooking the Bay toward San Francisco. Hundreds of feet below, the Pacific surf surging and roaring upon ragged rocks. A giddy headinessI'm thinking I hadn't taken my medication last night. I went on ahead, scampering and leaning into the steep incline on the narrow slippery trail.
On flatter, safer ground seventy yards away I looked back, and I couldn't believe it. My breath letting out, a rubbery weakness trembling me. I'm shaky too. But feeling an odd gentle loving feeling. What is it? I don't know. It's like I'm going to fly toward somewhere. It will suddenly not be dizziness anymore but a sudden release of energy that is flight.
SUNDAY, JUNE 19, 10:19 A.M.
Jog for the first time in a long time. Raggy chest from too much smoking. But no smoking now. I can feel sense of smell returning. Smoke in clothes, neckerchief.
Jog on asphalt trail to the lighthouse. Turn at the road where a Nike missile sat yesterday in the parking lot. What? A dummy or a real one? Yeah. I don't know. Yesterday? Yeah. A silo port built into the hill behind it. Around the Nike were families imagining the missile lifting off. Fire, smoke, immense thunder. At twenty I was with a Hawk missile unit at Fort Bliss. Our unit would go to White Sands Missile Range.
It used to be a thrill seeing Hawk missiles launching from their pads. Crazy. Insane. Madness. Geesus. Partly fear, partly something else. Thrill = adrenaline + no brains.
Feels good to jog on the beach. Count paces. Three hundred at a time. Half a mile or so. Be careful. You have limits. You're fifty-three now.
Happy Father's Day card from Sara yesterday. Love and thank you. She's twelve. Happy Daughter's Day to you.
MONDAY, JUNE 20, 9:25 A.M.
Last day of spring. Tomorrow the first day of summer.
Said to Lauri, Headlands Arts Center cook, I would put her cooking in my journal. As the cook, she's the true and real artist here. The rest of us are just writers, painters, dancers, though we do wash dishes and clean up things pretty good after we eat the food Lauri cooks! Art is food: delicious shrimp, salad goulash (fresh corn, green beans, onions, cucumbers), garlic bread, wild rice. And pastry shortbread with raspberry sauce and peaches and cream. Delicious and delightful.
And a long talk with Kentucky, who's from Louisville, a city where I arrived one night drunk.
Got up in the impossible morning, I told Kentucky, stumbled downstairs into the conference hotel lobby full of professors in their professor suits and dresses. What the hell was I doing there? I have no idea except I'm to give a workshop talk at 8:30. A hopeless alcoholic paranoia and panic grips me. I can't drink in the hotel bar so I stumble into the street. Thinking this is where Muhammad Ali grew up as a street kid named Cassius Clay. Somehow that makes me feel safe or something although the Louisville streets are reeling gray and nauseously around me. I need a drink, geesus, I pray. Praying, for crissakes.
Kentucky intensely studied my face.
And my prayers were answered at the corner, a downstairs dive bar, smelly and dark, dangerous maybe, probably, but I didn't care, I just needed a drink real bad. So I stumbled down the stairs and ordered a vodka, just vodka. Make it a double I said. Shaky and absolutely crazed by then. Three tired-looking old white guys look at me, one of them wags his head at me. I ask for tomato juice then, which the bartender doesn't have so I have grapefruit. And another vodka which takes all my strength to keep down. I look at the dirty floor and shake my head after I swallow the shit. Geesus, that was Louisville, yes.
Kentucky looked at me for a long moment when I finished my story. And think she almost wagged her head like the old guy.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 29, 11:20 P.M.
Baked salmon, new potatoes, green salad tonite. Great stuff.
SATURDAY, JULY 2, 7:45 P.M.
It doesn't do any good just to hang around feeling shitty.
Yet that's what I was doing all day long. And nothing to show for it. Nothing.
So I decided to go to the beach. Watch the sunset.
Where is the poetry?
At the beach.
Who took it there?
It's always been there.
Yeah, just there.
Little stones. Little stones. Seagulls. Gray shiny water. Silver and gold flashes. March. I think it was March. Ocean Isle, North Carolina. Warm then, not lonely. Stones and foamy water. The Atlantic. Pacific here. The fog this morning too.
The poetry at the beach was always there. The poetry at the beach was sharp light.
TUESDAY, JULY 12, 3:45 P.M.
Hold out your hand, I say to Cynthia. When I walk up holding out folded sheets of paper. And the stones and shells in my hand. She smiles. But doesn't hold out her hands. Instead she withdraws them, holds them back. Tiny hands. Open your hands, I say. What is it? she asks. Don't ask, don't be afraid. But what is it? she asks. Just open your hands And receive what's real. Art. Stones. Shells.
THURSDAY, JULY 14, 10:07 A.M.
Talk about risk last night. Headlands Center for the Arts is located within federal property managed by the U.S. Park Service and its bureaucratic rules. Which requires Headlands Center artists to abide by the rules. Risk by the rules?
Renee is Mexican Indian, dark skinned. I'm risking my reputation, he says.
And he says about another artist's work, That's not risk, that's business! What did your people gain, Indian? What did your people lose, Indian? What is risk? Is there any such thing as risk at all? The question is asked by a Chinese artist with bright inquisitive eyes.
No. There is nothing at risk. There is nothing at risk in this fucked up nation and epoch. THEY got it all. And they don't have to risk. THEY want us to risk. But for THEM, there is no risk.
Unless we push the matter forward. Risk.
What would happen if we put up signs saying NO ENTRY. PRIVATE PROPERTY.
Signs which stated U.S. GOVERNMENT STAY OUT.
Signs which state ATTENTION LIARS, THIEVES, AND KILLERS
You have stolen enough land and life. From here on out, you are no longer allowed access. We claim back our land and life. Go away. Do not enter.
You think that will shake them? You would think so. But I don't know. Maybe. But it has to be approved by the U.S. Park Service. Memo: No risks allowed without proper clearance and authorization by the U.S. Government. Please come to the office for approval. Immediately
No. Just a sign will do:
This land is no longer yours.
We are taking back what is ours.
It was never yours.
Would that be risk? It would probably get some attention, but would it be risk?
White people especially, please note.
We know there are some good guys among you,
but there are some absolutely bad ones
who are everywhere.
We mean some real shitheads. No, more serious than that.
Killers, thieves, liars to the max.
The ones who built those missile silo bunkers on the hills,
the ones who brought in the Nikes
and display one disarmed (?) every Sunday, 12:30-5:30 P.M.,
the ones who hide downtown in the bank buildings
or live in Tiburon or are taking Paris summer vacations,
those ones, those white people,
the scary ones, please note.
I wrote a poem some time ago. What was the last line in it? "s/Sinagua Indians/SEE MUSEUM FOR MORE INFORMATION."
Risk has to be more than personal risk. It has to concern itself with ethical, moral, political, social, historical, spiritual, material issues and questions. Personal risk is the least at stake.
Life is at stake.
Walking a tightrope. And falling or not falling. Crucifixion. Car racing. Jumping out of airplanes. Putting stuff in a computer memory and hoping it'll be there again next time you open up the machine. Spilling your guts out to someone else. Telling someone you love them or not telling someone you love them. Those are important risks but they're selfish and self-centered stuff mainly.
NO RISKS ALLOWED
BY THE AMERICAN WAY
OF LIFE AND THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
(On your way out, please contribute $$$.
It costs $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ to run your lives.
U.S. $ only.)
SUNDAY, JULY 24, 11:15 A.M.
It's kinda crazy when think about it.
I shouldn't get into situations like this I thought. I might kill somebody. Or get killed.
The man, Michael, spoke from the backseat. "It's good for them to hear you speak in a foreign language. A language they don't know, y'know."
I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything right away.
Until somehow I managed to say, "You mean the Acoma Pueblo language I was speaking."
"Yeah," he said from the backseat. "That language. The foreign one." Sometimes I feel like killing somebody.
After poetry readings though, most times, usually, people are polite. And they say thank you, sometimes referring to something I brought up in poetry.
This time I overheard a tall, blonde, freckled woman with broad shoulders and an intense manner say, "Indians are hard to save."
Before and Behind Me
JANUARY 28, 1987
I look in the mirror. Before me is a brown face, strained, thinner than five years ago. Behind me is a tilted lamp shade. Orange light. A large, cheap chest of drawers. A chair with two towels, jeans draped. A box of unrelated, unresolved papers. Letters, documents, forms. No poems. No stories. Just the words I've written from habit. A dime on the night stand. Ashtray which I keep emptying. A single room key and not much more. There has been more than this. Late at night, early, early in the morning. There are poems. There are stories. Before me in the mirror. Behind me in the mirror.
The act is to remember without losing the moment. It was the cheap hotel room in the Tenderloin, third floor. Thumps in the ceiling, clumsy calls for help in the walls; night, night. To remember the minutes without losing the present. More precious than now, as it was then, now more than any other time the imperative not to lose.
Knowing about being Indian just because you're an Indian.
What? Hunh? Huh? Say something?
No one knows about being white, just like no one knows about being Indian.
But I do know more about being Indian than being white or Latino or black or Martian.
And that means I do know more about being Indian than you do.
Have you ever heard anyone ask what does it feel like to be white?
And what do you feel when you're asked too frequently about being Indian, Latino, or black?
What does it feel like to be Indian?
Really, I want to know.
Is essentialism untenable? Or is essentialism tenable?
Excerpted from Out There Somewhere by Simon J. Ortiz. Copyright © 2002 by Simon J. Ortiz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.