The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

Deer Dancer
By Joy Harjo

Nearly everyone had left that bar in the middle of winter except the
hardcore. It was the coldest night of the year, every place shut down, but
not us. Of course we noticed when she came in. We were Indian ruins. She
was the end of beauty. No one knew her, the stranger whose tribe we
recognized, her family related to deer, if that's who she was, a people
accustomed to hearing songs in pine trees, and making them hearts.

The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits
blew deer magic. Henry jack, who could not survive a sober day, thought she
was Buffalo Calf Woman come back, passed out, his head by the toilet. All
night he dreamed a dream he could not say. The next day he borrowed
money, went home, and sent back the money I lent. Now that's a miracle.
Some people see vision in a burned tortilla, some in the face of a woman.

This is the bar of broken survivors, the club of the shotgun, knife wound, of
poison by culture. We who were taught not to stare drank our beer. The
players gossiped down their cues. Someone put a quarter in the jukebox to
relive despair. Richard's wife dove to kill her. We had to keep her
still, while Richard secretly bought the beauty a drink.

How do I say it? In this language there are no words for how the real world
collapses. I could say it in my own and the sacred mounds would come into
focus, but I couldn't take it in this dingy envelope. So I look at the stars in
this strange city, frozen to the back of the sky, the only promises that ever
make sense.

My brother-in-law hung out with white people, went to law school with a
perfect record, quit. Says you can keep your laws, your words. And
practiced law on the street with his hands. He jimmied to the proverbial
dream girl, the face of the moon, while the players racked a new game.
He bragged to us, he told her magic words and that when she broke,
   became human.
But we all heard his voice crack:

What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?

That's what I'd like to know, what are we all doing in a place like this?

You would know she could hear only what she wanted to; don't we all? Left
the drink of betrayal Richard bought her, at the bar. What was she on? We all
wanted some. Put a quarter in the juke. We all take risks stepping into thin
air. Our ceremonies didn't predict this. or we expected more.

I had to tell you this, for the baby inside the girl sealed up with a lick of
hope and swimming into the praise of nations. This is not a rooming house, but
a dream of winter falls and the deer who portrayed the relatives of
strangers. The way back is deer breath on icy windows.

The next dance none of us predicted. She borrowed a chair for the stairway
to heaven and stood on a table of names. And danced in the room of children
without shoes.

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille With four hungry children and a
crop in the field.

And then she took off her clothes. She shook loose memory, waltzed with the
empty lover we'd all become.

She was the myth slipped down through dreamtime. The promise of feast we
all knew was coming. The deer who crossed through knots of a curse to find
us. She was no slouch, and neither were we, watching.

The music ended. And so does the story. I wasn't there. But I imagined her
like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who
entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a
blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left.


The most exciting thing I did yesterday, aside from taking my kids to get haircuts and dropping off the van for an oil change before we drive it to New York for New Year's, was to scan a bunch more gratuitous Paul Bettany pictures from magazines. Hence, no report on my day yesterday. *g*

Still not sure about today; older son wants to be taken to Toys R Us to spend the gift card that's burning a hole in his pocket, younger son wants to be taken to Target, same thing. We might go see Peter Pan. My mother is making noises about trying to get discounted tickets to Camelot at Arena Stage. Both my horoscope and my tarot card of the day, not that I believe in either of these forms of prognostication, warn me not to make plans since challenges awaite me. So I am in wait-and-see mode.

Am thinking of making a web page on the proper use of the term "censorship." It is censorship when the government bans the dissemination of documents on the grounds that they may inspire violence or sedition, or when a school prevents students from reading books whose content varies from an approved curriculum. It is NOT censorship when a film ratings board decides that a movie is violent enough to warrant a rating that may affect that film's box office and distribution because theater chains that cater to family audiences won't risk diminished returns by giving the film the widest possible release. It's a somewhat more complicated matter when a large chain refuses to play a certain movie at all on the grounds that its content may be offensive, but in theory, in a capitalist society, if there is enough demand for a given form of entertainment, the demand will create the marketplace for it.

I've never advocated censoring an artist or filmmaker, but if you think I'm going to give my money to people making films that offend me personally (and that I will not allow my children to see until they are old enough to make informed and intelligent decisions about the nature of the violence and how closely it parallels reality), or if you think I should feel sorry for a filmmaker asked to cut a scene of extreme violence by a studio that has invested tens of millions of dollars in a project whose overall reception will depend on its accessibility to the widest available audience, you are sadly mistaken. If it's a filmmaker's goal to work utterly free of constraints, he or she will surely know to avoid studio money and interference, work with independent investors and film festivals and not worry about the MPAA rating. But if the goal is to get the movie seen by the broadest possible cross-section of the filmgoing public, or by people like me who have very few limits on acceptable sexual or theological content yet won't sit through one more bloodbath in the name of realism -- even if the film's about Vietnam or the Holocaust -- then make a movie that doesn't feature violence to such a degree that I have no stomach for watching it, and don't bitch at me that I'm a censor if I refuse to patronize it.

Pennsylvania Post-Sunset

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