the poem Backdrop Addresses Cowboy is, ..
The novel, a laugh-heavy peek at the professional rodeo world and its attendant devotees and groupies, is an intense and exhausting, but worthwhile read in which rodeo is merely the backdrop — albeit a colorful, active backdrop — to a well-built story of love, loyalty, betrayal and friendship.
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Story tingles in these poems the way electricity does in a storm-- makes your hair stand up, gives an ozony smell of strange powers moving in your world. But then, if you try to read the words by their occasional blinding strokes to you-ward, you may get awfully frustrated. Well, YOU may not--certainly I did. I kept peering into the dark and dazzle, trying to see just who the you might be that the I of a given poem might be addressing: whether a friend or friends unknown to me, or me and other readers, or all of us. The you and the I were up there in that high dark hailstony whirling, where the power that blinks redeyed hours into our clock radios might at any second kill our time--and I was down in this small bulb-lit room trying to make out what the voices of hail and thunder were saying.
Sometimes a story flashed and in its flare were deer dancers and deer magic in an Indian bar in the Southwest ("Deer Dancer"); then it was old daylight time in Tulsa ("Death is a Woman"), and a sleek whiskey-breathed father dancing with his peroxided Death-In-Life in Cain's Ballroom. Well, I recognized Tulsa time and place and people, though the words make them symbolic as hell: I could look up unblinking into that flashlit cloud because way back in grade school we used to listen to country music on the air from Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa.
So I like Joy Harjo's Okie thunder, because I like to know where any whirlwind is taking me. There's one tornado in the book ("Autobiography") that touches down both in Tulsa and what feels like Santa Fe, but I can ride it as calm, almost, as Elijah when that sweet chariot swung low for him--because I know the tracks, in Indian territory, of "doom's electric moccasin" (thanks, Emily!), so if Joy "lived next door to the bootlegger," I know her address, since my folks bought whiskey there before she was born. I may find it hard to follow her through the dark Indian country she explores with so many different stories and powers, but when she says ("Autobiography") of Oklahoma, The Sooner State glorified the thief. Everyone and no one was Indian, she is exactly, horribly right. It's the best brief word on the matter--though a picture by Richard Ray Whitman has hammered the point home as strongly: that one of his "Street Chiefs" series which places a REAL Indian (one that tourists would never approve as "Indian") beneath a great billboard on which, beside the logos of a Sioux-bonneted Indian and a Marlboro cowboy, there is the legend BUY OKLAHOMA.
Everyone and no one was Indian. I have old friends with as much or more Indian blood than I have, who never dance or in any way regard themselves as anything but whites with some Indian blood. But I have a nephew who is a quarter Osage and has blue eyes and redgold beard and long hair--and when he danced at the Sun Dance on the Rosebud, he was called Yellow Hair (in Lakota), a name that has its echoes for Custer and Buffalo Bill freaks. His Ponca daughter was this year's Ponca Powwow Princess at White Eagle, Oklahoma. To be "Indian" in Oklahoma and many places now involves no fewer shades and varieties of being and seeming than to be "white" or "black"-- however surprising and dismaying that must be to those looking for Real Indians in warbonnets leaving a Trail of Tears in the red Oklahoma dust.
But in this as in other books Harjo writes many more songs of love than of Oklahoma. Some are bluesy notes of pain and loss ("Unmailed Letter," "The Bloodletting"), some wildflower embraces, intense and respectful--"Rainy Dawn" for her teenage daughter, "Crystal Lake" for her grandfather, "A Winning Hand" for Richard Hugo. Some are of passion and love ("Desire," "City of Fire," "Crossing the Water"); others of passion and hate ("If I Think About You Again . . ."). And the poems open up to worlds outside these United States--to the powers and images of Egypt ("Hieroglyphic," "The Book of Myths"), to the Reaganauts and Bushwhackers of Central America ("Resurrection," "The Real Revolution is Love"). Harjo keeps cool about Nicaragua: hates what was (and is) being done to people there, but reminds us that talking politics is different from living values.
The poems open also to the music of music. Harjo plays saxophone, and hears with her heart--so her poem to Charlie Parker ("Bird") has the power of shared love and pain:
Frankenstein," 317n2, 397 archive, living, 93-106 "Arguing Against Ice Cream" (MT, Atwood), 385 As Ten as Twenty (ATT,Page): "Element," 87, 91 n6; "If It Were You," 82; "Landlady, The," 85, 246; "Personal Landscape," 82, 87 "At the Tourist Centre in Boston" (ATC, Atwood), 332, 335-337 autobiographical pact, 121-134, 335 "Ava Gardner Reincarnated as a Magnolia" (MBH,Atwood), 313 "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy" (SP 1966-1984, Atwood), 246-247, 286 "Bad News" (GB, Atwood), 311 Blind Assassin,The (BA, Atwood), 10, 13, 22, 27, 28-29, 35, 129, 131, 192nl, 213, 231, 232, 238-239, 293, 298-300, 316-317 n2, 346 n10; gothic romance genre, 368, 373-382, 398; history/herstory, 466 Index 107, 112, 116-119, 375, 377; as a literary mystery, 361-370; protagonists, 349-350, 353-358 Bodily Harm (BH,Atwood), 67, 108, 129, 240 n3, 293-296, 300, 302 n4, 309-310, 314, 399 body-centred imagery, 307, 361-370 "Bog, Man, The" (WT, Atwood), 259, 260-261,263-266 "Book of Ancestors" (YAH, Atwood), 309 Breitbach, Julia, 13, 331-346 Bromberg, Pamela S., 13,257-267 Brydon, Diana, 14,27, 294, 447-458, 463 "Burned House" (MBH, Atwood), 313-314 "Bus along St.