Updated: Dec 31, 2019
The horizons you've promised me will be brilliant with signs. I am sick of shadows. Blind me with you!...Feel this delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise. Rumi, a 13th Century Persian poet and mystic
For breakfast, I eat oatmeal and read Joy Harjo, How We Became Human. The oatmeal is spiced with ginger and cinnamon, the poems spiked with juxtapositions, deliciously jarring. Like great jazz: stretching the mind and stroking the senses. No surprise, Harjo also plays saxophone – the very instrument I want to play if I come back in another lifetime. Or better yet, I’ll come back AS the sax, let others play me, my brassy mouth gaping, wailing, sliding, taking me to Rumi’s horizons and beyond.
Harjo's writing speaks music: “We are chords to other chords to other chords, if we’re lucky, to melody.” Her words become keys turning locks, become doors flung open, become that horizon brilliant with signs. It’s like surrendering to Coltrane when each note begins to hang in the air, reverberating on a page of blue sky, in counterpoint to quivering stars at night. Her poetic lines accumulate within, until they generate a tumble of my own thoughts, jeweled with images. I reach for my musical instrument – a keyboard that taps out letters rather than sounds.
And then the mistake. The ring of the phone, which I answer instead of the call of the Muse. After a brief conversation, I return, fingers poised over the keyboard. Nothing. I can no longer hear the evocative notes of Harjo's poems, can't recover my own metaphoric trail. All that hovers is the word “arrival,” something about an opening, what was it? I look to the horizon for signs, but the verbal chord progressions fade as my eyes reach them, like a morning dream running through my fingers.
I try. I hum the word arrival over and over. What was the progression, was the key major or minor? Ah, it’s like trying to deconstruct Coltrane, tracing “A Love Supreme” backwards, from end to beginning. It doesn’t hold, it no longer ripples and twists. Instead, it’s the morning after, a smoky room and empty bottles the only sign a wild party had ripped through.
I must remember: Never, ever neglect the Muse if she knocks at my door. Recognize her as the gossamer ghost she is, mirroring and morphing, soon to vanish.
I call out to her recent manifestations, hoping she might turn back: Rumi, Coltrane, Harjo, haunt me, blind me! You’re the forbidden sun I long to stare at, you’re the lightning streaking jagged across a purple sky, you're my slippered feet skipping on each ascending note as they make their way toward the Milky Way - and I don’t give a damn if I fall! Let me be the sax, let me be the noise, let me be the notes that glow and pulse until they evaporate into morning mist.
Melodic excerpts from Joy Harjo - First (finally!) Native American U.S. Poet Laureate
From "Bird" (as in Charlie Bird Parker, the great jazz musician):
I said, Let me hear you
by any means: by horn, by fever, by night, even by some poem
attempting flight home.
And from “The Book of Myths:"
I did not imagine the fiery goddess in the middle of the island.
She is a sweet trick of flame,
had everyone dancing, laughing, and telling stories
that unglue the talking spirit from the pages.
When the dawn light came on through the windows,
I understood how my bones would one day
stand up, brush off the lovely skin like a satin blouse,
and dance with foolish grace to heaven.
This essay will soon be followed by a related piece reveling in the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music - "The Muse Comes to Santa Cruz." Please feel free to leave comments below. The band plays on.