Deer Dancer

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.
 

Further Reading

Poems about Ancestors
Ancestors
by Cesare Pavese
Arabic
by Naomi Shihab Nye
At the Public Market Museum: Charleston, South Carolina
by Jane Kenyon
How I Got That Name
by Marilyn Chin
How Palestinians Keep Warm
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Ladders
by Elizabeth Alexander
Many Asked Me Not to Forget Them
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Nunaqtigiit
(people related through common possession of territory)

by Joan Kane
On the Gallows Once
by Kofi Awoonor
On this Very Street in Belgrade
by Charles Simic
Passing
by Carl Phillips
Post-Dissertation-Intervention (i.)
by Ronaldo Wilson
Prayer for My Unborn Niece or Nephew
by Ross Gay
Snow
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Teach me I am forgotten by the dead
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart
by Jack Gilbert
The Multitude
by Ellen Hinsey
What I Am
by Terrance Hayes
Poems about Deer
Deer Hit
by Jon Loomis
Deer, 6:00 AM
by Sarah Getty
Earthy Anecdote
by Wallace Stevens
How to See Deer
by Philip Booth
The City of God
by David Baker
The Supple Deer
by Jane Hirshfield
Winter Study
by Mark Wunderlich
Poems about Drinking
"To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage"
by Robert Lowell
Driving and Drinking [North to Parowan Gap]
by David Lee
A Drinking Song
by W. B. Yeats
A Glass of Beer
by James Stephens
At the Blue Note
by Pablo Medina
Be Drunk
by Charles Baudelaire
California Plush
by Frank Bidart
Compulsively Allergic to the Truth
by Jeffrey McDaniel
Dangerous for Girls
by Connie Voisine
Days of Me
by Stuart Dischell
Deer Hit
by Jon Loomis
Fallen Apples
by Tom Hansen
Father Listens to the Artists
by David Petruzelli
Homecoming
by Robert Lowell
I Love the Hour Just Before
by Todd Boss
I taste a liquor never brewed (214)
by Emily Dickinson
In Knowledge of Young Boys
by Toi Derricotte
In Vino Veritas
by Howard Altmann
Jet
by Tony Hoagland
Joey Awake Now
by Glyn Maxwell
Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Michael's Wine
by Sandra Alcosser
My Papa's Waltz
by Theodore Roethke
Nights
by Harvey Shapiro
On 52nd Street
by Philip Levine
Parties: A Hymn of Hate
by Dorothy Parker
Picking Up
by Evelyn Duncan
Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey
by Hayden Carruth
Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump
by David Bottoms
The Bottom
by Denise Duhamel
The Drunken Fisherman
by Robert Lowell
The Eternal City
by Jim Simmerman
The Silence
by Philip Schultz
the suicide kid
by Charles Bukowski
The Summer House
by Tony Connor
Vodka
by Joel Brouwer
When a Woman Loves a Man
by David Lehman
Wine Tasting
by Kim Addonizio