Photo by VIKI EAGLE
We Were There When Jazz was invented, or a Love Song for Justice Fields
First Act, Scene One
Everyone and every place has an origin story.
They are as individual as you or me.
Some of us say we emerged from the earth on a ladder, from darkness into light. Some of us sailed the sky in a canoe from star to star until we landed here—at this crook of stones, or in this field of waving medicine plants.
I am here because the spirit of the story of American music came to me for help. It is an immense story. It has been carried by many, and calls itself by many names; blues, country, jazz, rock, reggae, and all the forms in between and backwards and forwards. Something is missing in the story. “I can’t go forward,” said the spirit of this story, “until the story is fixed.”
Why me, I asked?
Because you will find the missing part of the story.
But I am not the most likely, not a lettered scholar of original American music, or a renowned player of profound jazz interpretations, or a touring blues diva.
I am here because one of my seventh-generational grandchildren is standing atop the tallest building in downtown Tulsa in the Muscogee Creek Nation, higher than high on some combination of heroin, meth, and alcohol and racism and he’s about to jump.
How can I fix the American music story when I need to help my grandson?
It is the same story, they said.
SPEEDED UP HEARTBEAT MUSIC, PEYOTE STYLE
DOWNTOWN TULSA the MAYO BUILDING
“One little two little three little Indians.”
Somebody help him!
When I jump whatever I feel can’t be as bad
as what I feel when I feel.
I’m as thin as a light bulb swinging on a break thin cord.
When I fall I’ll look like a fracking accident
tearing up the earth.
Or Wile E. Coyote on the losing end of a roadrunner chase.
No matter how many stories high is this building,
it’s not as high as I am.
My sad little life is empty whiskey bottles
scattered in the alley of the American Dreamscape.
(to the hecklers and others gathering below)
Fuck you! Better move out of the way! Take a picture!
(He pulls out his cellphone.)
Better yet, I’ll take it myself.
(JUSTICE texts and reads)
“Take a good look, America, this is the last stand of Justice.
Tulsa’s homegrown Creek Indian homie on stolen Creek Indian land,
The son of disappearing act Rabbit Leroy Fields
And devoted mother soon without son, June.
I send this last testament of living and dying
(he almost slips)
To wherever it will land—”
(His phone falls and hits the pavement below.)
Somebody call the police.
No, the fire department.
Let the tribe come over here and scrape his body off the sidewalk.
Let them use their casino money.
Fools. Racist old bat.
I need another hit. I’m coming down too fast.
Or, I will be.
(chugs on a pint of cheap vodka)
This is getting too serious for a blues funkin jazz dub dude
in a hip hop gangsta world.
I never did fit this skin.
(He peers over the edge.)
Hvmken, hokkolen, tuccenen…
I’ll count, and then I’ll join Janey, my girl…Janey
at her Kiowa encampment in heaven.
I’ll bring dream horses to marry you, no
nightmares this time. I promise.
But Janey, you messed me up, Janey.
You were going to stand by me to the end,
you left like everyone else.
I’ll be your superhero. I’ll save you,
and no one will hurt you--
Who are you?
A helper, a storyteller—
I didn't call you.
No, your mother did.
She doesn't know where I am.
No, of course she doesn’t, or she’d be here.
She senses you are in danger.
The mother cord knowing is more true than any other signal.
A mother’s prayers are some of the strongest.
They find their way through the most virulent of human storms.
I don't need anyone’s help.
I’m in my own twin towers drama.
I am my own terrorist.
This is my own private story, my own deathwatch.
You picked a very public place for your very private story, grandson.
Who are you really, anyway?
You don’t look like an angel; you look like my
aunt who lives near New Tulsa grounds.
Do you have wings?
No wings. No angel.
I must be in hell then.
Did I jump already?
(SIREN on the street to somewhere else)
I guess not—
Hells are easy to make. They proliferate cheaply,
but each hell is constructed at great cost.
Mine is made of nerve bars
dazzling with pain.
One of my finest arts.
It’s your choice what you do
with your gifts.
Pain is my art.
If you say so—
Do you have a cigarette?
(STORY HELPER gives JUSTICE a cigarette, takes one, and lights up.)
Tobacco is a helper, a plant given to heal.
Smoke smoothes me.
To smoke is innately ceremonial.
Your thoughts wander to the stars.
Better if you sing to the plants
and do not colonize them for money.
It’s your ceremony.
My wake, my funeral?
Or celebration. It’s up to you.
What’s taking so long? The police should have been here by now.
Those winds are picking up. They’ll push him off.
You are in a dangerous place in your story.
(cool and terrified)
Being Indian in this town is always dangerous.
Death will not save you from your story.
Your story will go on through the doorway, through time.
It will go with or without you.
Ten, night, eight…
Once there was a beautiful baby boy born to his parents Rabbit and June Fields in the Creek Nation on the day of eight tornados chasing each other across Oklahoma.
The parents were racing to the hospital.
Just as the baby’s head pushed into the breathing world,
a tornado picked up the car and spun it in the air.
You landed in a field of wildflowers.
There were more wildflowers that year than ever before
in the history of wildflowers. And then, Justice Fields,
you gave your first cry song, your first blues.
The tornado could have destroyed all of you.
Your mother and father were lit by the miracle.
A song came to your mother as she blessed you
as every mother does when they first hold their newborn.
She touched you and sang beauty into arms,
legs, your heart, your lungs, your eyes and mouth.
LULLABYE (in Mvskoke and English)
“TEN TOES AND TWO FAT FEET
ON TWO FINE LEGS TO RUN WITH WIND
TWO LONG ARMS THAT REACH FOR DREAMS
TWO STRONG HANDS TO BLESS THE EARTH
TWO LUNGS TO TAKE IN BREATH
AND LET IT OUT TO PLAY AGAIN.
TWO EARS, TWO EYES TO HEAR
AND WITNESS BEAUTY EVERYWHERE.
ONE MOUTH. ONE NOSE. ONE
MORE TIME UNTIL I GO.
TWO HEARTS WE ROCK THE BABY
TO SLEEP BABY SLEEP.”
Must be on drugs or alcohol. He’s up there talking to himself.
Where are the police when you need them?
Somebody go help him.
My father left us to catch a gig in some city on the blues trail.
Before he left, he cut your cord with a guitar string.
It was an “E” string to be exact.
And then he was gone.
My daddy hero was
a disappearance act
in my growing up book.
Don’t mention her
or I’ll go now.
(He edges to the edge.)
Jump, and you are trash on the street.
You don’t get free.
That’s too heavy, ma'am, to believe.
Call me “Story Helper” or VNICV (Oh-nay-juh)
I will either fly to the Milky Way
and see all of my dead Mvskoke relatives,
or if I am to believe the Christians who run this town
I will be greeted by a White Man God
in a red fire suit
who will punish me by pitching me to hell
for the egregious sin of suicide.
(thinks, then laughs)
What’s funny, grandson?
Funny, for our people fire
is a beneficent helper.
You have it all figured out then?
No. I thought I did.
I thought I was a poet.
I was speaking justice, to save the world
with words and music.
No one heard.
No one got it…
Right now, your story appears to end tragically.
Yet another teenage suicide.
Epidemic these years, I believe
with our young native men and women…
STOMP DANCE CALLER BARELY AUDIBLE
Can you hear that music? I feel my grandfather close by.
I hear your story making a noisy effort against a heavy moment of time.
CREEK HYMN BARELY AUDIBLE (acts as a response of sorts)
And my grandmother’s favorite Creek hymn.
Rest here for a moment, grandson. There is plenty of time for playing with death.
Tell me about the music. Tell me about Janey.