with Harold Littlebird
Paguate used to be a big farming community. People had orchards, people had fields of melons, they had great big gardens, fields of grain. Out there where the mine is now there used to be nothing but grain fields my mom said. I think my mom's dad had a piece of property over there and that he worked for something, an orchard or some fields.
That's all gone, that's all torn up now. Mainly when you look towards Paguate all you can see is the mines, mines and all the confusion that is over there. It seemed like a long time ago I could look over and I knew exactly where the mines were, one little spot. Now it seems like you look over there, and that's all you see is a mine, and you don't see any of the land that used to be there. It used to stick out like a long finger. Now it's just all the way back, it's just like somebody just cut the finger off.
This is my mother's house. This is where her mom and dad grew up, here in Paguate. My dad's house is in Santo Domingo, but they've both come to live here now. I feel that my writing and things come from this place, this house, even though I really never knew it like my brothers did, or my mother and her mom and dad. My mom has talked around the table. When we sit down to eat, she talks about this place and about the places all around here. This is where the language comes from that I try to use when I'm writing.
I think the language is a very vital part of the people themselves. And I think by the loss of the language you begin to lose that sense or oral tradition. And it becomes apparent, it really does. 1 think it's a very vital part of our tradition. For the most part when you want somebody to hear something in a non-Indian situation, if somebody wants to make something important, they really blast it out as if to say "This is what you're going to hear." You really blast it out at you. But in an Indian sense, it's just the opposite. Things that are important are said very calmly, very quietly, because they are that important. You should have that respect, not just a blurting out, but very deep kinds of things. And so, when I read, I try to keep myself in that kind of tone. It's hard to explain just exactly what I mean, but the way the language is being used and the way it always has been when you were going to talk. It's not that often that young people in the village get a chance to talk. It's usually the older people. When you listen to them, you listen to them, and they have that unhurriedness, because they've already measured things out or felt what they are going to say. It's not a thing that they're just saying it, but something that they feel.
And I guess that's what I'm trying to say when I'm reading: I really feel this. Things are really there, they're not just words anymore. The word is sacred and I'm using it that way.
You go out, you go hunting. Usually there's a time when you stop. Sometime, somewhere. Usually, when you first start to go out. The first thing you do in the morning, when you're alone and by yourself, you usually pray and ask that you get lucky. Because I don't speak Indian that well, I just use a few words. But it's usually how I feel, that there is something out there and that maybe this time I'm going to be lucky. I'm asking for that. If I should get lucky, then help me to be strong, so that I can bring it home, in a good way, for the people, for my family, for whatever you're out there for. That's what that's about. It doesn't really make any difference if, when you're praying, you're sincere about it. It doesn't make any difference if you're talking in English or whatever—it's the way you pray.
(Laguna Deer Song)
Ever hear that one? There's another one too that has a lot of words in it, talking about how that butterfly shows the hunters where the deer are, how the hunter thanks the butterfly when he finally gets a deer.
Larry taught me that one. You don't understand the language that much either, do you? Larry was trying to tell me what that song was about. He said it was something like: the hunter was going hunting. He was praying, and a butterfly came along and told him where the deer were. So he went that way, the way the butterfly told him to go. He found the deer, and he got a deer over there where the butterfly showed him. So he's singing to the butterfly and thanking him for showing him where the deer were. That's what that song's about. That's an old one though. I think somebody recorded it. In Laguna they call it "Fly, Butterfly, Fly." I didn't learn it the same way that guy knows it.
That's the way older people pray when they go hunting. They sing songs, and they pray in the morning. They talk about things like that. I'm trying to say the same things as those songs when I'm hunting. It's like my kind of prayer when I go hunting.
That gives you an idea of the way when you go out hunting you always pray sometimes, somewhere along the way asking that you get lucky. And it's always that way, you're always asking, not saying, "Why not shoot something?" I was hoping and praying that I would get lucky. That's what that's saying. Then if you should happen to get lucky, then you just say "Help me be strong, so I can carry this animal home, whatever it is." I think about it that way.
I don't know where this particular one came from. It might have started as a Navajo song. I don't know. It goes—just the English part of the song goes—something like . . .
But there's all kinds of other songs. Like there's songs about the army. There's songs about lovers . . .
But singing, and song, and whistling, and anything that has to do with me musically has always been with me. It's just within the past few years that I've really tried to listen to traditional Indian music and incorporate my type of lyrics with traditional Indian music, such as pow wow music, 49 music, round dance songs. But I've always been singing and trying to write.
Usually, after a pow wow there is a 49 and this particular one that I wrote, this song about "Talking 49" was from conversations of people that I met at the 49's. Usually, because the pow wows are at night, it usually takes place at night, and it lasts all night or until the singers get hoarse or just give up and pass out or something. I wrote this for a friend of mine in Santa Fe. We were getting ready to go to the 49, and he stopped, and he asked me, "What's a 49? What are you going to do? What's going to happen there?" So I wrote this song called "Talking 49," and it goes something like this:
— "If you can hear my hooves" was first published in Kenneth Rosen, ed., Voices of the Rainbow: Contemporary Poetry by American Indians (NY: Viking, 1975), p. 207.
— "There is singing" appears in Geary Hobson, ed., The Remembered Earth; An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature. (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1979), pp. 252-3).
—Harold Littlebird appears with his cousin Rodney Encino in the scenes along the stream.
— The lead singer in the "49" song session is Nelson Begay. Other singers are Joe Begay, George Issacs, Tim Clashin, and Victor Masayesva, Jr.
— "Talking 49" has not been published.
— "For the Girls 'Cause They Know" was published in Voices of the Rainbow, p. 212.