Thread: Joy Harjo
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Unread 01-01-2020, 09:27 AM
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Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Portland Maine
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Default Joy Harjo

I was thinking this morning about new years and world(s) ending. I am really thankful that Carla Hayden, the first woman and first African American serving as the Librarian of Congress, named Joy Harjo as the poet laureate. The often quoted business by Brecht about there still being singing in the dark times comes to mind alot lately. I hear an episode of Red Nation podcast with Nick Estes where First Nations peoples where discussing the rising awareness of the great extinction we are in the midst of and how the end of the world that has been so intimate the those First Nation's peoples may finally dawn upon the heirs of colonialism. Harjo's work seems so adept at confronting endings and beginnings. I have found good things in the work of plenty of the recent laureates but never felt the vocation and presence as a real thing until this pairing of poet and time. Hers really is the first Native American poet-work to sit in this place. She is steeped in the collapse, salvage, struggle and rebirth that we may soon also become intimate with. This is a way of being that has much less to do with genetic dregs than the weight of moments lived among a happening while informed by world-way outside the dominant. Anyway, I wanted to start a thread with her poems. The obvious first is here:

When the World as We Knew It Ended


We were dreaming on an occupied island at the farthest edge
of a trembling nation when it went down.

Two towers rose up from the east island of commerce and touched
the sky. Men walked on the moon. Oil was sucked dry
by two brothers. Then it went down. Swallowed
by a fire dragon, by oil and fear.
Eaten whole.

It was coming.

We had been watching since the eve of the missionaries in their
long and solemn clothes, to see what would happen.

We saw it
from the kitchen window over the sink
as we made coffee, cooked rice and
potatoes, enough for an army.

We saw it all, as we changed diapers and fed
the babies. We saw it,
through the branches
of the knowledgeable tree
through the snags of stars, through
the sun and storms from our knees
as we bathed and washed
the floors.

The conference of the birds warned us, as they flew over
destroyers in the harbor, parked there since the first takeover.
It was by their song and talk we knew when to rise
when to look out the window
to the commotion going onó
the magnetic field thrown off by grief.

We heard it.
The racket in every corner of the world. As
the hunger for war rose up in those who would steal to be president
to be king or emperor, to own the trees, stones, and everything
else that moved about the earth, inside the earth
and above it.

We knew it was coming, tasted the winds who gathered intelligence
from each leaf and flower, from every mountain, sea
and desert, from every prayer and song all over this tiny universe
floating in the skies of infinite

And then it was over, this world we had grown to love
for its sweet grasses, for the many-colored horses
and fishes, for the shimmering possibilities
while dreaming.

But then there were the seeds to plant and the babies
who needed milk and comforting, and someone
picked up a guitar or ukulele from the rubble
and began to sing about the light flutter
the kick beneath the skin of the earth
we felt there, beneath us

a warm animal
a song being born between the legs of her;
a poem.
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