Joy Harjo

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

With love to my Mom on her 81st birthday week! And birthday wishes also extended to Mary Oliver ~



It's Hard to Keep a Clean Shirt Clean

  Poem for Sriam Shamasunder
  And All of Poetry for the People

It’s a sunlit morning
with jasmine blooming
easily
and a drove of robin redbreasts
diving into the ivy covering
what used to be
a backyard fence
or doves shoving aside
the birch tree leaves
when
a young man walks among
the flowers   
to my doorway   
where he knocks   
then stands still   
brilliant in a clean white shirt

He lifts a soft fist   
to that door   
and knocks again

He’s come to say this   
was or that   
was   
not   
and what’s   
anyone of us to do   
about what’s done   
what’s past   
but prickling salt to sting   
our eyes

What’s anyone of us to do   
about what’s done

And 7-month-old Bingo
puppy leaps   
and hits   
that clean white shirt   
with muddy paw   
prints here   
and here and there

And what’s anyone of us to do   
about what’s done   
I say I’ll wash the shirt   
no problem   
two times through   
the delicate blue cycle
of an old machine   
the shirt spins in the soapy   
suds and spins in rinse
and spins   
and spins out dry   

not clean

still marked by accidents   
by energy of whatever serious or trifling cause   
the shirt stays dirty
from that puppy’s paws

I take that fine white shirt   
from India   
the threads as soft as baby   
fingers weaving them   
together   
and I wash that shirt   
between   
between the knuckles of my own
two hands
I scrub and rub that shirt
to take the dirty
markings
out

At the pocket   
and around the shoulder seam   
and on both sleeves   
the dirt the paw   
prints tantalize my soap   
my water my sweat   
equity   
invested in the restoration   
of a clean white shirt
         
And on the eleventh try
I see no more
no anything unfortunate
no dirt

I hold the limp fine
cloth
between the faucet stream
of water as transparent
as a wish the moon stayed out
all day

How small it has become!
That clean white shirt!
How delicate!
How slight!
How like a soft fist knocking on my door!
And now I hang the shirt
to dry
as slowly as it needs
the air
to work its way
with everything
         
It’s clean.
A clean white shirt
nobody wanted to spoil
or soil
that shirt
much cleaner now but also
not the same
as the first before that shirt
got hit got hurt
not perfect
anymore
just beautiful

a clean white shirt

It’s hard to keep a clean shirt clean.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Here's to the Super Harvest Moon, monsoon rain, and a continuing focus on Tucson poets for the month of September!




Highway Rain

Arizona has a love affair with water.

The desert looks almost out of place in the rain,
it's not accustomed to touch.
Twigs and bark bristle against the slow coup d’état of clouds.
Saguaros stand taller, in challenge, gripping to baked dust.

No one ever told you why -rain is so special here.
It wasn't until you saw the lightening rod place
it’s finger again and again, until you noticed the smell - creosote,
or how all the plants rise up a body rises into a back bend,
or like your hair when déjà vu brushes your neck…

until you saw how humbly the desert drank,
never asking the water if there was someone else,
it wasn't until you noticed the way the desert hummed
sometimes for days afterward.

It wasn’t until you saw steam rise from rocks and stray bits of metal,
until you had to pull the car over because there was nothing but rain.

It was then, stopped halfway between Tucson and El Paso that you knew.

You could never leave the desert. Might move away for years,
but you’d always come back. Your devotion to water
was only made sharper by experiencing it sparsely.

You learned to ignore the slurs, the wrong names…
“Empty,” “dried out,” “barren” and replaced them with “open.”

You learned from the desert, a place rumored to be lifeless
how to live. Smiled when people ‘didn’t get it.’ Didn’t see
the beauty in long stretches of sky and earth.
Some people needed more green and more hills.
And you, you needed more possibilities.

You became a local when you understood it wasn't the rarity of rain.
It was how frantically the sky and earth connected.
Weaving curtains of water and electric bolts between them.
As if shear intensity could counteract the inconsistency.

Rain in the desert was like a show down,
like rage turned into sex
and then love making.
Terrifying –   Beautiful.