Excerpt from Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Crazy Brave

A Memoir

by Joy Harjo

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2012, 176 pages
    Jul 2013, 176 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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Print Excerpt

Every soul has a distinct song. Even the place called Tulsa has a song that rises up from the Arkansas River around sundown.

I heard the soul that was to be my mother call out in a heartbreak ballad. I saw her walking the floor after midnight. Though she was crazy in love with my father, she sensed the hard road ahead of them. I heard Cherokee stomp dancers in the distance. They were her mother's people. They danced under the stars until the light of dawn. I saw a young Irishman cross over waters, forced by politics and poverty. He married into the Cherokee people. He is one of her ancestors. Over in the east I saw a hill above the river. There was my mother's dream house. She had four children, two boys and two girls. Everyone had a bed and shoes. No one ever went hungry.

Because music is a language that lives in the spiritual realms, we can hear it, we can notate it and create it, but we cannot hold it in our hands. Music can help raise a people up or call them to gather for war. The song my mother-to-be was singing will make my father love her, forever, but it will not keep him out of the arms of other women. I will find my way to earth by her voice.


Though I was reluctant to be born, I was attracted by the music. I had plans. I was entrusted with carrying voices, songs, and stories to grow and release into the world, to be of assistance and inspiration. These were my responsibility. I am not special. It is this way for everyone. We enter into a family story, and then other stories based on tribal clans, on tribal towns and nations, lands, countries, planetary systems, and universes. Yet we each have our own individual soul story to tend.

As I approached the doorway to Earth, I was hesitant to enter. I kept looking over my shoulder. I heard the crisp voice of the releaser of souls urge me forward.

"Don't look back!"

And I remembered how Earth is a heavy teacher yet is so much loved by the creator of planetary beings. I did not want to leave mystery, yet I was ever curious and ready to take my place in the story.

My mother wanted a baby to show her love for her husband, my father.

My father didn't know what he wanted. If he was going to have a child, he preferred a son, though in his everyday world in the racist Oklahoma of the fifties, it was difficult for an Indian man, especially one who had no living Indian father or grandfather to show him the way. Most people on my father's side of the family passed from this place relatively young. I am one of the oldest living relatives of our family line. My generation is now the door to memory. This is why I am remembering.

My father was born of tribal leadership. Monahwee, who was one of the leaders of the Red Stick War, which culminated in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the largest Indian uprising in the country, was his grandfather, six generations back on his mother's side. Monahwee is still a beloved person to the Creek, or Mvskoke people. Samuel Checotah, another grandfather, was the first principal chief after we settled in Indian Territory, or Oklahoma. Osceola, the Seminole warrior who refused to sign a treaty with the United States government, was our uncle.

As I write this I hear the din of voices of so many people, and so many stories that want to come forth. Each name is a tributary to many others, to many places. I see the spirit of New Orleans and hear the singing of the spirit of Congo Square. Congo Square was originally a southeastern Indian ceremonial ground. It became a meeting place for tribal peoples, Africans, and their European friends, lovers, and families. They gathered there to dance, to enjoy the music and the food wrapped in cloths and gourds they brought to share. This was the place of gossip, news, philosophy, and history. These people, our ancestors, want to be recognized; they want to be remembered.

I see Osceola's mother, Polly Coppinger, as she stands there with her hands on her hips and a reddish glint to her black, heavy, kinky hair. She was born during times of great transition for the Mvskoke Nation. She was charismatic, with a decided stubbornness, and passed this on to her son. I have seen her African ancestors often in my dreams. They gave me a doorway in a dream one night when I was in my very early thirties. It was a waking dream. I was in a village in West Africa. It was another time. I was wrapped in a mat after fasting for several days. I was carried through several realms and saw many things. I was gone for weeks. Yet I returned the next morning as a young woman with two children living in an apartment in Santa Fe. Some things I remember and some things continue to be kept from me.

Reprinted from Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2012 by Joy Harjo. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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