Saturday, November 12, 2011


A Question

—Preface or Introduction to She Had Some Horses WW Norton Edition December 2008

"What do the horses mean is the question I’ve been asked most since the first publication of the book She Had Some Horses in 1984.

I usually say, “it’s not the poet’s work to reduce the poem from poetry to logic sense”. Or “it’s not about what the poem means, it’s “how” the poem means.” Then I ask: “So what do the horses mean to you?”

Like most poets, I don’t really know what my poems or the stuff of my poetry means exactly. That’s not the point. It never was the point. I am aware of stepping into a force field or dream field of language, of sound. Each journey is different, just as the ocean or the sky is never the same from one day to another. I am engaged by the music, by the deep. And I go until the poem and I find each other. Sometimes I go by horseback.

No, that’s not it at all.

The horses are horses. My father’s side of the family is inextricably linked with horses. We aren’t a Plains horse culture, though we came to know horses. I understand there was some exchange of power between the horse people and my relatives from seven generations or more back. I am the seventh generation from Monahwee (sometimes spelled as “Menawa”) who is still a beloved person to the Mvskoke people, my tribal nation. I was told how he had a way with horses. He could speak with them. And he also knew how to bend time. He could leave for a destination by horseback at the same time as his cohorts, then, arrive at his destination long before it was physically possible to arrive. He had a little black dog that followed him everywhere.

My cousin Donna Jo Harjo was a champion barrel racer, and knew how to speak with horses. She had to live close to horses, or not live at all. They were her people as much as any of the rest of us.

And there was the horse who came to see me once in the middle of a long drive north from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Albuquerque. I perceived him first by an ancient and familiar smell. Then I was broken open by memory when he nudged me, in that space that is always around and through us, a space not defined or bound by linear time or perception. He brought the spirit of the collection of poems that was to become She Had Some Horses.

Later was my horse Casey. The last time I ever drank too much was in a “proletariat bar” in Krakow, Poland because I was happy to meet and play music with some Bolivian Indian musicians and a Hawaiian, and we were all so far from home. In the grey of the early morning, when I was whirling around sick in my hotel room, my horse Casey came to me with a worried look. He was concerned because his last “owner” had died of complications from alcoholism. I assured him that this would not happen between us. And it didn’t.

Horses, like the rest of us can transform and be transformed. A horse could be a streak of sunrise, a body of sand, a moment of ecstasy. A horse could be all of this at the same time. Or a horse might be nothing at all, but the imagination of the wind. Or a herd of horses galloping from one song to the next could become a book of poetry.

I follow in the tracks of gratitude. I thank the horses, my ancestors who loved them, and those who grew to love their cars and trucks instead. I thank my mother and her family. They are the ones who brought me songwriting, guitar players and singing. I thank Simon Ortiz for singing original and old horse songs. I thank the shaman/healer I saw perform a poem and become what he was singing. It was then I began to comprehend the true power of the word: the dangers, the beauty and all the healing elements. This was when I began to write poetry. I thank those who continue to believe in the horses, in poetry."

What a journey.

Joy Harjo May 28, 2008 Honolulu, HI

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