the power of never

Nov 26, 2021 7:36 PM
from A Map To The Next World by Joy Harjo

Never is the most powerful word in the English language, or perhaps any language. It's magic. Everytime I have made an emphatic pronouncement invoking the word never, whatever follows that I don't want to happen happens. Never has made a fool of me many times. The first time I remember noticing the powerful effect of this word I was a student at Indian school. My best friend, Belinda Gonzalez, and I were filling out our schedules for spring semester. She was Blackfeet, a voice major from Yakima, Washington. I was a painting major and checking out times for painting and drawing courses. She suggested I sign up for drama class with her. I said no, I will never get on a stage. Despite my initial protest I did sign up for drama class and soon was performing in one of the first all-native drama and dance troupes in the country, and now I make my living performing. Never is that powerful!

And it doesn't matter when the statement is made, never makes its cruel spin as it hunts down a dreaded fate. It must be quite attractive in the epistemological world, a being with dark, luminous eyes, the physique of a cat. You will get on a stage, or in this case, you will move to Los Angeles at some point on your journey because you have just foolishly stated to a circle of friends that Los Angeles is the last place in the world you would live, you would never live there because it's smoggy, too much traffic, too many strangers and besides it is going to fall off into the ocean after one too many earthquakes, or one too many stupid movies.

So I moved to Los Angeles, into the heart of the beast, just off Hollywood and Wilcox to an apartment complex harboring a myriad of fools like me, some who probably made the same statement regarding the possibility of moving to Los Angeles, using that same word, never. Needless to say I was in shock as a new arrive, from a quiet adobe condo near a bird sanctuary in Albuquerque where the daily music of life was the song of the sun moving across the sky, doves swinging on the telephone wires and other birds who considered the Rio Grande river valley a spa for their personal renewal.

I spoke with the crows before leaving for Los Angeles. They were the resident storytellers whose strident and insistent voices added the necessary dissonance for color. They had cousins in California, and gave me names and addresses, told me to look them up. They warned me too what they had heard about attitude there. And they were right. Attitude was thick, hung from the would-be's and has-beens and think-they-ares, so thick that I figured it was the major source of the smog. And then there were the beautiful days when the perfume of flowers was everything and there appeared to be nothing else in the world, not the violence, the winos breaking bottles in the alley, the Spice Girls going up Hollywood Boulevard on a double-decker bus with low-flying helicopters accompanying them. The crows' cousins kept me company in that sometimes lonely and strange place as they paced the ledges of the crumbling buildings in my neighborhood.

One of the crows lived two apartments down from me. We lived on the third floor. He introduced himself to me shortly after I moved in when we met one day in the hallway. He gallantly took off his silk hat and bowed, said, "my name is R. we take care of each other here." His slick black hair was perfectly groomed, his clothes shiny with money. Hip-hop music came through his door, and he had a steady stream of company, a perpetual party. He was always polite though the crowd of buyers grew large and raucous. Last I heard he was evicted for selling drugs, this crow with manners and a taste for the fine things in life.

I've considered using the power of never by trying for the opposite effect. For example: I will never win the lottery, or there will never be peace in this world. It won't work. It never will.