Write About a Transition and/or Confinement
Compassionate Fire: by Joy Harjo from A Map to the Next World
Everything was ending the night I found myself at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, though it was spring and the air was urgent with the perfume of fresh leaves and new flowers. I was restless that night as I tried to sleep in the hotel room, accompanied by the sounds of the thousands who surrounded me in that city, souls clammering in the present, from the past and present and possible future. I had left a nine-year relationship and though I had flourished with the end my next move was tentative. The newspaper that morning had included a graphic story of the death and anticlimactic burial of Pol Pot, infamous leader of the Khmer Rouge. How ironic that a man responsible for the cruel deaths of thousands would die peacefully in the jungle on a cheap flowered mattress. He was surrounded by tired guards, who later cremated the body on a stack of tires, junk, and a few belongings. Rumors are that he may have been poisoned. Even so, he was to go gently in his sleep, unlike the thousands he violently murdered.
Perhaps there is a current called “the end” and we catch the wave of it by luck, karma or some other means of logic. Each process has a cycle. The end is one part of the cycle and it recurs according to the spin. That night the end slithered through the unconsciousness of the city. It appeared in the dark vaguely as a giant lizard, close to the Muskoke descriptions of a tie snake, a monster from the waters of the deep conscious. It whipped around, knocking dreamers into nightmares, dragging us through our fears at the deepest point of the night.
Not far from dawn my spirit jumped up, out of my body and began traveling through history. This is not unusual. The need for this particular trip was especially urgent. I needed to see my way through the end, to know the utter end of a relationship, for example, or to see the utter end of evil. I felt susceptible to danger. The journey is difficult and you may find yourself in a field of cremation fires, caught in the keening of grief. You will make it to the other side though it may be an eternity in human time, a blink in star time.
This world is layered with flowers and birds to make it lighter. I smelled roses in my room, the sticky ash of human fire, the ozone of spirits. I stood there at that fire as evil burned. The land was rich with the songs of birds who had kept singing through all the killings, through the slash of torture, the burn of betrayal.
Why does evil exist? I ask the question we all continue to ask. And why does evil often sit in the chairs of rulers, presiding over history, over human and other lives they are charged to protect? We are the ones who give these people power. Andrew Jackson was made president after being medaled with high war honors by the U.S. Government for killing Muskoke women and children who were resisting being forced from their homelands.
In this age leaders seem to be chosen according to the ability to acquire power and money, not because of their outstanding gifts of service, compassion and love for the community.
Destruction is part of any process like weeding, and we need to constantly hone ourselves to be made strong, not to rule and destroy but to continue toward a beautiful sense of meaning and order. There is an exact address of compassion and in this place even Pol Pot and Andrew Jackson will one day open their eyes. But it is sometimes difficult to translate this knowing into the here and now where men like Pol Pot and Andrew Jackson are honored for their acts and are perceived as powerful and women raising children are not.
Once I traveled years through the dark and found myself in India at a funeral pyre of a teacher whom I loved compassionately, fiercely. He sat up though the fire raged around him. He was cool and composed and though the fire appeared to consume him it didn’t touch him. He turned to smile at me, transformed me with his embodiment of perfect peace.
And then like most humans I walked back into the world I had made. Back to my quick impatience at any small thing. What a small memory! And I have to laugh at myself and keep going through the end.
WRITE ABOUT CONFINEMENT
From an essay by Reviel Netz, in the July 20 issue of the London Review of Books.
Mark out, on the two-dimensional surface of the earth, lines across which no movement is allowed, and you have one of the key themes of history. Draw a closed line preventing movement from outside to inside the line, and you define landed property. Draw the same line preventing movement from inside the line to outside, and you define compulsory confinement. Draw an open line preventing movement in either direction, and you define a border. Topological structures of this kind range from absolute barriers that make movement across them physically impossible, through more subtle ones whose function is to make movement inconvenient and therefore undesirable, to wholly symbolic definitions of limits, respected only because that’s how a society or an international consensus works. Even a symbolic definition of space, however, depends on the possibility of force being used in defense of spatial bounds, if only as a last resort. The role of force in the history of the prevention of movement— force in its most literal sense, of physical pressure applied to bodies—means that such a history must be one of violence and the infliction of pain.
Joy Harjo was born in 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma to Native American and Canadian ancestry. Strongly influenced by her Muskogee Creek heritage, feminist and social concerns, and her background in the arts, Harjo frequently incorporates Native American myths, symbols, and values into her writing. Her poetry tends to emphasize the Southwest landscape and need for remembrance and transcendence. Read more...