Sometimes classified as a short story, the prose poem “The Flood” weaves the Native American myth of the watersnake with the tragic story of a contemporary sixteen-year-old Creek girl. The legend underlying Harjo’s story recounts the tale of a water monster who takes the form of a handsome warrior and seduces a young woman. Leaving her family, the girl becomes his wife and lives with him at the bottom of the lake. The modern Creek girl also meets a man by the lake and is seduced by him. However, she imagines that her lover “was not a man, but a myth” and believes that she has participated in a sacred ritual. The girl’s parents are embarrassed by her actions, and, to cover their shame, they arrange her marriage to an older man of the tribe. The girl rejects the marriage.
Eventually, the girl disappears in a tornado, but later it is learned that she died not from the storm but by drowning. Older tribal members believe that the watersnake punished the girl for disobeying her parents. Others believe that the girl accidentally drowned when she drove her car into the lake after consuming a six-pack of beer. The narrator offers a third opinion—that the girl’s depressing life on the reservation clashed with her Native American heritage. The cultural conflict led her to commit suicide.
Harjo believes that keeping tribal oral traditions alive is vital to the survival of Native American people. Ignoring the sacred myths risks the destruction of American Indian culture. The people in the story have lost their connection with the natural world by adopting the values of modern Western society. Ironically, the watersnake, the ancient god of wind and rain, has the last word. As the title of the story implies, cultural disintegration will result if the power of nature is not respected.