Charley John Greasybear
Songs is a collection of one Native American’s oral poetry captured on paper. A therapy client of the poet and psychologist Judson Crews, Charley John Greasybear told his poems to Crews, who wrote them down and assembled this collection. As J. Whitebird explains in the introduction, “Some of the poems speak clearly of his bonds to his native community, bonds which most of us will never have the good fortune to experience. Some of them cry of his violent and confused efforts to blend in with a homogenized America. But that is the point; Charley John sings openly of his view of wonderful and terrifying multiple worlds.”
The full text of Charley John Greasybear’s Songs is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.
That music that is not dead
always in my ears
Where does it
where does it come from
Do you hear it
I ask Feathered Owl
I have always heard it
I heard it in the South Pacific
when I was there
and I hear it now
We hear it everywhere
we hear it everywhere
but once our people
when they heard it
and believed a vision
We hear it still
yet I am not dancing now
and Feathered Owl
has one arm
and no legs
Copyright © 1979 by Charles John Greasybear
The main occupation of the modern American is shuffling papers. We shuffle bills, bank transcripts, wills, ownership papers, credit cards, checks, and every kind of form imaginable. All the events of our lives are enacted, transacted, and verified by paper. Consequently. we consider our lives complicated, civilized, and sophisticated.
Next to this. the Indian concept of life seems simplistic, even primitive. But if we look at it closely, we see a very different structure than we are used to. To the American Indian. as well as to people of other cultures, such as East Indian and Zen, nothing but a poem can actually take place on paper. And then the paper is only the vehicle, not the Ijfe. The Indian approach to life is simplistic in that every event, person, tree, rock, season, human action, and thought is an entity unto itself. Every thing perceived by any of the senses is alive, and is treated with the same respect as a human body. This requires that the set of symbols used to live by be different and far more extensive than our own system of numerical digits and legal jargon. Which is to say, quite simply, that the Indian ianguage of life is undoubtedly more complicated, more sophisticated than our own.
The nature of oral poetry, as we know it, has traditionally been viewed as verbal structuring. What sets this collection apart is its deep roots in myth and the universal symbols of life. For the sake of historical significance, I wiil mention the circumstances of the origins of this book, but they are only secondarily important. Charley John Greasybear was Judson Crews' therapy client. a part-Navajo Indian immersed in the omens and life style that the American culture, for the major part, has chosen to define as primitive. Some of the poems speak of his bonds 10 his native community, bonds which most of us will never have the good fortune to experience. Some of them cry of his violent and confused efforts to blend in with a homogenized America. But that is the point: Charley John sings openly of his view of wonderful and terrifying multiple worlds.
This is where Judson Crews comes in/ He is an established poet with a complete symbology of his own. But it is only his years of work on paper that give us the trust in his knowledge of the translation of these symbols. In this collection of poems. Charley John Greasybear orates in a language of awareness both different and more extensively interwoven than our own. And Judson records and renders it with precision.
When we understand this view, and can incorporate it into our lives, we may at last call ourselves Indians at least in spirit Or, as I prefer, citizens of the world. What we call ourselves is of no significance. But the act of naming is all important.
Here, translated to paper, are two citizens of the world, Mr. Judson Crews and Mr. Charley John Greasybear. Here are the songs of the stars and the mountains, of the seasons and passions of the heart and soul, of the symbols of humanity and destiny, and of the strength of the ever-growing community of citizens of the world. And Charley John and Judson sing well, with voices like the peal of birds in silent air, swift and communicative. And like the rivers, the trees, the cities and streets, and the man who walks upright among them all, we hear and listen. And when we hear, we mark their passing in our lives with a new symbol in our own language for an old truth.