for keeps :: joy harjo

Sun makes the day new.
Tiny green plants emerge from earth.
Birds are singing the sky into place.
There is nowhere else I want to be but here.
I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.
We gallop into a warm, southern wind.
I link my legs to yours and we ride together,
Toward the ancient encampment of our relatives.
Where have you been? they ask.
And what has taken you so long?
That night after eating, singing, and dancing
We lay together under the stars.
We know ourselves to be part of mystery.
It is unspeakable.
It is everlasting.
It is for keeps.

this morning i pray for my enemies :: joy harjo

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

invisible fish :: joy harjo

Invisible fish swim this ghost ocean now described by waves of sand, by water-worn rock. Soon the fish will learn to walk. Then humans will come ashore and paint dreams on the dying stone. Then later, much later, the ocean floor will be punctuated by Chevy trucks, carrying the dreamers’ descendants, who are going to the store.

everybody has a heartache: a blues :: joy harjo

In the United terminal in Chicago at five on a Friday afternoon
The sky is breaking with rain and wind and all the flights
Are delayed forever. We will never get to where we are going
And there’s no way back to where we’ve been.
The sun and the moon have disappeared to an island far from 
anywhere.

Everybody has a heartache — 

The immense gatekeeper of Gate Z–100 keeps his cool.
This guardian of the sky teases me and makes me smile through the mess,
Building up his airline by stacking it against the company I usually travel:
Come on over to our side, we’ll treat you nice.
I laugh as he hands me back my ticket, then he turns to charm
The next customer, his feet tired in his minimum wage shoes.

Everybody has a heartache — 

The man with his head bobbing to music no one else can hear has that satisfied
Feel — a full belly of sweet and a wife who sings heartache to sleep.
In his luggage (that will be lost and never found) is a musty dream of flying
Solo to Africa, with a stop on the return to let go the stories too difficult to
Carry home. He’ll take off his shoes to walk in a warm, tropical sea.
He’ll sing to the ancestors:
Take me home to mama. No one cooks like her.
But all the mamas worked to the bone gone too young.
Broken by The Man.

Everybody has a heartache — 

Everyone’s mouthing fried, sweet, soft and fat,
While we wait for word in the heart of the scrambled beast.
The sparkle of soda wets the dream core.
That woman over there the color of broth did what she was told.
It’s worked out well as can be expected in a world
Where she was no beauty queen and was never seen,
Always in the back of someplace in the back — 
She holds the newest baby. He has croup.
Shush, shush. Go to sleep, my little baby sheepie.
He sits up front of her with his new crop of teeth.

Everybody has a heartache — 

This man speaks to no one, but his body does.
Half his liver is swollen with anger; the other half is trying
To apologize — 
What a mess I’ve made of history, he thinks without thinking.
Mother coming through the screen door, her clothes torn,
Whimpering: It’s okay baby, please don’t cry.
Don’t cry. Baby don’t cry.

And he never cries again.

Everybody has a heartache — 

Baby girl dressed to impress, toddles about with lace on this and ruffle on that — 
Her mother’s relatives are a few hundred miles away poised to 
welcome.
They might as well live on a planet of ice cream.
She’s a brand new wing, grown up from a family’s broken hope.
Dance girl, you carry our joy.
Just don’t look down.

Everybody has a heartache — 

Good-looking punk girl taps this on her screen
to a stranger she has never seen:
Just before dawn, you’re high again beneath a marbled sky,
I was slick fine leather with a drink in my hand.
Flying with a comet messenger nobody sees.
The quick visitor predicts that the top will be the bottom
And the bottom will flatten and dive into the sea.

I want to tell her:
You will dine with the lobster king, and
You will dance with crabs clicking castanets. You will sleep-
Walk beyond the vestibule of sadness with a stranger
You have loved for years.

Everybody has a heartache — 

This silence in the noise of the terminal is a mountain of bison skulls.
Nobody knows, nobody sees — 
Unless the indigenous are dancing powwow all decked out in flash and beauty
We just don’t exist. We’ve been dispersed to an outlaw cowboy tale.
What were they thinking with all those guns and those handcuffs
In a size for babies?
They just don’t choose to remember.
We’re here.

In the terminal of stopped time I went unsteady to the beat,
Driven by a hungry spirit who is drunk with words and songs.
What can I do?
I have to take care of it.
The famished spirit eats fire, poetry, and rain; it only wants love.

I argue:

You want love?
Do you even know what it looks like, smells like?

But you cannot argue with hungry spirits.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going; I only know where I’ve been,
I want to tell the man who sifted through the wreck to find us here
In the blues shack of disappeared history — 
I feel the weight of his heart against my cheek.
His hand is on my back pulling me to him in the dark, to a place
No soldiers can reach.
I hear the whoop-cries of warriors calling fire for a stand
Against the brutality of forgetfulness — 

Everybody has a heartache — 

We will all find our way, no matter fire leaping through holes in jump time,
No matter earthquake, or the breaking of love spilling over the dreck of matter
In the ether, stacking one burden
Against the other — 

We have a heartache.

fear poem, or I give you back :: joy harjo

I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.
You are not my blood anymore.
I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my home, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.
I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.
I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you
I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.
to be loved, to be loved, fear.
Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.
I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart
But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid of dying.

eagle poem :: joy harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

a map to the next world :: joy harjo

for Desiray Kierra Chee

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it
was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the
altars of money. They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals our
children while we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born
there of nuclear anger.

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to
disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak to
them by their personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the
map. Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us, leav-
ing a trail of paper diapers, needles, and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood, your father’s
small death as he longs to know himself in another.

There is no exit.

The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine—a
spiral on the road of knowledge.

You will travel through the membrane of death, smell cooking
from the encampment where our relatives make a feast of fresh
deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.

They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.

And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world
there will be no X, no guidebook with words you can carry.

You will have to navigate by your mother’s voice, renew the song
she is singing.

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

And lights the map printed with the blood of history, a map you
will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.

When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers where they
entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.

You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.

A white deer will greet you when the last human climbs from the
destruction.

Remember the hole of shame marking the act of abandoning our
tribal grounds.

We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who was
once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map.

remember :: joy harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

insomnia and the seven steps to grace :: joy harjo

At dawn the panther of the heavens peers over the edge of the world.
She hears the stars gossip with the sun, sees the moon washing her lean
darkness with water electrified by prayers. All over the world there are those
who can’t sleep, those who never awaken.

My granddaughter sleeps on the breast of her mother with milk on
her mouth. A fly contemplates the sweetness of lactose.

Her father is wrapped in the blanket of nightmares. For safety he
approaches the red hills near Thoreau. They recognize him and sing for
him.

Her mother has business in the house of chaos. She is a prophet dis-
guised as a young mother who is looking for a job. She appears at the
door of my dreams and we put the house back together.

Panther watches as human and animal souls are lifted to the heavens by
rain clouds to partake of songs of beautiful thunder.

Others are led by deer and antelope in the wistful hours to the vil-
lages of their ancestors. There they eat cornmeal cooked with berries
that stain their lips with purple while the tree of life flickers in the sun.

It’s October, though the season before dawn is always winter. On the
city streets of this desert town lit by chemical yellow travelers
search for home.

Some have been drinking and intimate with strangers. Others are
escapees from the night shift, sip lukewarm coffee, shift gears to the
other side of darkness.

One woman stops at a red light, turns over a worn tape to the last
chorus of a whispery blues. She has decided to live another day.

The stars take notice, as do the half-asleep flowers, prickly pear and
chinaberry tree who drink exhaust into their roots, into the earth.

She guns the light to home where her children are asleep and may
never know she ever left. That their fate took a turn in the land of
nightmares toward the sun may be untouchable knowledge.

It is a sweet sound.

The panther relative yawns and puts her head between her paws.
She dreams of the house of panthers and the seven steps to grace.

ah, ah :: joy harjo

for Lurline McGregor

Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.
Lands on the crown of the palm tree.

Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.
We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.

Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.
We claim our seats. Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.

Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.
Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.

Ah, ah tatttoos the engines of your plane against the sky—away from these waters.
Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.

Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail. We fly by
on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.

Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul. Ah, ah.

equinox :: joy harjo

I must keep from breaking into the story by force
for if I do I will find myself with a war club in my hand
and the smoke of grief staggering toward the sun,
your nation dead beside you.

I keep walking away though it has been an eternity
and from each drop of blood
springs up sons and daughters, trees,
a mountain of sorrows, of songs.

I tell you this from the dusk of a small city in the north
not far from the birthplace of cars and industry.
Geese are returning to mate and crocuses have
broken through the frozen earth.

Soon they will come for me and I will make my stand
before the jury of destiny. Yes, I will answer in the clatter
of the new world, I have broken my addiction to war
and desire. Yes, I will reply, I have buried the dead

and made songs of the blood, the marrow.

perhaps the world ends here :: joy harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what,
we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the
table so it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe
at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what
it means to be human. We make men at it,
we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts
of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms
around our children. They laugh with us at our poor
falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back
together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella
in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place
to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate
the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared
our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.
We pray of suffering and remorse.
We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,
while we are laughing and crying,
eating of the last sweet bite.