South Summary

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Last Updated on October 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1973

South signifies “release”; it is the direction of migrating birds, natural abundance, creative energy, and “eternal transformation.”

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Living in Tahlequah, Harjo was consumed by her “abandoned dreams,” which seemed to clamor for her attention night and day. Although she experienced moments of joy as she witnessed the growth of her son and stepdaughter, she also felt that ignoring her gifts would result in immeasurable sadness. She and her husband realized they had left their artistic dreams in New Mexico and decided to return there with their children. Back in Santa Fe, they reconnected with their old friends from school and began making art again, with Harjo becoming involved in community theater. Despite these changes, Harjo’s husband still struggled to find work, and their domestic life was characterized by drudgery. After a brief stint working at a gas station, Harjo decided to train as a nursing assistant.

One day, Harjo discovered a love letter from her husband to their children’s babysitter. After this betrayal, she felt freed from her husband and left him. Harjo decided to study premed and, with help from her tribe and the Eight Northern Pueblos Talent Search, secured a place at the University of New Mexico. She lodged with a Hopi family before renting an apartment for herself and her son in Albuquerque; her husband had refused to let her adopt her stepdaughter.

Shortly after Harjo started at the University of New Mexico, her family sent her fourteen-year-old brother, Boyd, to live with her after he became suicidal. Enraged, Harjo wrote to her mother, telling her that it was Harjo’s stepfather, not Boyd, who should be forced to leave. But Harjo’s stepfather opened all the family’s mail, and her mother wrote back that after reading the letter, he had forbidden her from even speaking of Harjo, who was now forbidden from visiting the house.

Meanwhile, a “revolution” inspired by the civil rights movement was taking place among Native young people, and Harjo herself became active in the Kiva Club, the University of New Mexico’s Indigenous student group. She also changed her major to studio art and officially divorced her son’s father, feeling afterward that she wished to remain single. However, one day when attending a press conference, Harjo’s eye was caught by a Pueblo man from the National Indian Youth Conference—a “modern-age warrior.” At a party later that evening, the man attempted to talk to her, but she was repelled by his arrogance. Nevertheless, when Harjo discovered their mutual love of poetry, the man “open[ed] one of the doors in [her] heart that had been closed since childhood.” The two quickly fell in love, and Harjo began to realize that poetry in English did not have to belong solely to a British or European tradition, but could describe her and her peoples’ own experiences.

Once she began dating the man, whom she terms “the poet,” Harjo found herself attempting to keep up with his heavy drinking and remembered her mother’s warnings not to “marry a drunk.” She recollects the first time the poet hit her, one night early in their relationship: Harjo and the poet went out to a bar where the poet mourned the anniversary of his best friend, a law school graduate who had been destroyed by alcoholism. After drunkenly attacking the bar staff, the poet climbed onto the roof of the bar and jumped down despite Harjo’s protests, then disappeared as the police approached. Harjo told him to leave the next day but forgave him when he apologized, telling herself his behavior had been caused by the pain of grief and racial injustice.

When the poet nearly drowns in a motel swimming pool one drunken night, Harjo is tempted to leave him to die. But Harjo is pregnant and has had a vision of her unborn daughter asking...

(The entire section contains 1973 words.)

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