By Hihdruutsi, who is also known as Simon J. Ortiz
The desk on which the laptop I use to write poems and stories and letters sits side by side with a bird kennel that houses two parakeets. Gorgeous feathers color the birds. One is a soft but pronounced green and yellow and gray. The other is mostly gray tinged with a bluish glow and has a long black tail. They talk and sing in chirps and trills almost all the time. We—a poet-writer and two birds—keep good company. They know I’m aware we’re companions. No kidding. And they roll their bright little eyes when I try to “sing and chirp and trill” with them in high airy efforts—sounds of song I surely want them to be!—I somehow make in my throat. We make and keep good company. Like above, no kidding!
The parakeets make me look at myself to some degree, causing me to think about the fact I am an Indigenous (Native) poet and writer. As they swivel beaks and heads to look at me, yes, they make me think. About what? they and you might say. About me. In speculation or wonderment. Yes, in bird perception and language. Hmmm. I mean, perhaps they do. Of course. Parakeet chirps and trills seem to be pondering noises, mixing and intermingling with my thoughts.
A few days ago, I was re-reading a story based on a fourth-grade boyhood memory from my collection of short fiction stories, Men on the Moon. I could almost hear the green and yellow one say, “When he sits at the table, he usually starts tapping away on that contraption on the table. But this time, he is reading.” Actually, I call my table that my laptop sits on a desk. I usually don’t talk directly at her or him, but I do glance at the parakeets more than a time or two in our moments together.
The short story I was reading at the moment is about Kaiser refusing to be drafted into the U.S. army. World War II was going on at the time. The federal government wanted him to gladly serve in the armed forces. But Kaiser was determined not to do so. The parakeets would have understood Kaiser, I think. Why go into the army and be sent off to war? It made sense to me that Kaiser didn’t want no part of any war far, far away in Europe or far, far away in Japan and the South Pacific.
The fiction story was set in the 1940s when I was born into the negative and constrained dynamic of WWII. I, an Indigenous (Native) American like Kaiser, was no stranger to war and conflict since we were still in a real and, at times, constant social-cultural-economic struggle for our existence as Indigenous peoples of the Americas. And we still are, needless to say. It is a struggle for recognition as the original and Indigenous population of the northern and southern American continents; U.S. public rubric was—and still is—provoked usually and simply and openly by racism against us and our stance.
Indigenous peoples of the Americas are, in a sense, like the above mentioned parakeets that are present-day descendants of their parental generations existent in past lifetimes. Perhaps that’s why at times or moments I’ve felt like I’m empowered personally by a cultural awareness that makes me “feel” a shared contextual knowledge and identity that we—the parakeets and me—have between ourselves.
My social-cultural-intellectual awareness is fostered by literature such as the short fiction stories in my aforementioned book, and it is supplemented by poetry that I read and also compose. And I shall now address the presence, function, and personal roles of poetry like those found in Woven Stone, which is a compendium consisting of three of my poetry collections: A Good Journey, Going for the Rain, and Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land.
I have said language use came to me some time after birth, just as it does for all human beings as far as I know. My language experience also comes from mind and body dynamics that I have had. And I have acquired language and knowledge use conceptually from the very act of reading and listening. And, most of all, I believe my work has benefited from the utilization of oral tradition from two languages, namely the Indigenous Keres language that the Aacqu’meh hanoh speak, and the English language from school and other sources.
Language is an essential and obvious part of the conscious and subconscious imprint of our humanity. And we, as human beings, organically and naturally know of language before physical birth, I believe. Abiding awareness of communication is part of an implantation mechanism given us by our creator faculty as an instinct. Or something like it. A remembrance instinct? Or intuition? Who knows? But it’s there within our brain or nervous system or soul or heart, and it is also countered by a powerful and subjective stance spurred or urged mostly by Western academia, science, economy, and art. And language is there for our use to think with, to learn, to feel, to grow, to evolve with, and to be eventually aware of the creative evolution of our lives.
In all of life—this is the origin and home place of poetry. Poetry is at the core of our human existence, purpose, and intention to learn, to explore, to evolve, even to develop beyond ourselves, to appreciate, to question, and to express ourselves and the depth and purpose of our lives. And, yes, in fact, even to strive to be beyond ourselves, never mind the “troubles” that may be caused.
Poetry lives because humanity lives—that is what, in short, I mean to say. I shall also add that poetry and its capacity to go forward is beyond measure. As human beings, we must respectfully value our capacity to live completely as loving human beings with appreciation and gratitude for all of life that we can express. Yes, wholesome, simple, and straightforward as responsible and obligated humans living with each other on Planet Mother Earth. Is that possible to do? Yes. Absolutely and ultimately, I believe it is possible. Yes, I do assert that belief.
I was born and raised within the Aacqu’meh hanoh and its social and cultural tribal community and its linguistic, philosophical, and more or less traditional ways of Indigenous life purpose and intention. When I was born, Indigenous peoples of the twentieth-century era (1901–1999) were living then in the social-cultural-economic conditions of colonization since AD 1492 when America was “discovered.” Literally that means their Indigenous homelands in North, Central, and South America had been settled and taken over by the Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, etc.—all of them from Europe.
The arrival and settlement of non-Indigenous peoples from Europe had tremendous impact on Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Things obviously didn’t change overnight or suddenly, but in retrospect, change has felt like it happened traumatically and suddenly. Columbus landed his ships on a small island in the Caribbean in 1492. And then by the 1590s Francisco Coronado led a Spanish expedition of conquistadores to what is now New Mexico. His soldiers sacked and destroyed the Aacqu’meh tribal community, killing many of the inhabitants of Aacqu per orders from Commander Coronado. To some Aacqu’meh hanoh hundreds of years later, those events almost feel resultant of traumatic change yesterday or last week—not in the past, some five hundred years ago.
Today’s Indigenous (Native) American peoples’ need for more education, better health, and sufficient income, plus peace of mind-heart-soul—and their need and quest for authentic, genuine, and sincere recognition of their Indigenous sovereignty—still constantly straddles their present-day lives from the northern Arctic regions to the southern tip of the Americas. To have obtainable and sensible practical goals like that I believe is necessary because they all make practical sense. Today’s world is not a dream; it is a practical reality. In the belief we gain from our experience in all of life, we live our lives as best we can. Sometimes we live well, and other times we do not. Presently, the whole world that Indigenous peoples know as the Planet Mother Earth is bound in a pandemic spurred by the COVID-19 virus. What the eventual outcome will be is not known yet. I compose poetry and write stories by believing in and living in all of life. I shall therefore continue composing in all of life. Wish me well. Thank you.
–Hihdruutsi, who is also known as Simon J. Ortiz
Copyright February 17, 2022 All Rights Reserved