Joy Harjo

Monday, November 6, 2017

Joy Harjo reads this Wednesday at PCC Center for the Arts 6-8pm!



Becoming Seventy


Knoxville, December 27, 2016, for Marilyn Kallet’s 70th birthday.
This poem was constructed to carry any memory you want to hold close
.


We


arrived


when the days


grew legs of night.


Chocolates were offered.


We ate latkes for hours


to celebrate light and friends.


We will keep going despite dark


or a madman in a white house dream.


Let’s talk about something else said the dog


who begs faithfully at the door of goodwill:


a biscuit will do, a voice of reason, meat sticks — 


I dreamed all of this I told her, you, me, and Paris — 


it was impossible to make it through the tragedy


without poetry. What are we without winds becoming words?


Becoming old children born to children born to sing us into


love. Another level of love, beyond the neighbor’s holiday light


display proclaiming goodwill to all men who have lost their way in the dark


as they tried to find the car door, the bottle hidden behind the seat, reason


to keep on going past all the times they failed at sharing love, love. It’s weak they think — 


or some romantic bullshit, a movie set propped up behind on slats, said the wizard


of junk understanding who pretends to be the wise all-knowing dog behind a cheap fan.


It’s in the plan for the new world straining to break through the floor of this one, said the Angel of


All-That-You-Know-and-Forgot-and-Will-Find, as she flutters the edge of your mind when you try to



sing the blues to the future of everything that might happen and will. All the losses come tumbling


down, down, down at three in the morning as do all the shouldn’t-haves or should-haves. It doesn’t matter, girl —


I’ll be here to pick you up, said Memory, in her red shoes, and the dress that showed off brown legs. When you met


him at the age you have always loved, hair perfect with a little wave, and that shine in your skin from believing what was


impossible was possible, you were not afraid. You stood up in love in a French story and there fell ever


a light rain as you crossed the Seine to meet him for café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. You wrote a poem beneath the tender


skin from your ribs to your hip bone, in the slender then, and you are still writing that song to convince the sweetness of every


bit of straggling moonlight, star and sunlight to become words in your mouth, in your kiss — that kiss that will never die, you will all


ways fall in love. It doesn’t matter how old, how many days, hours, or memories, we can fall in love over and over


again. The Seine or Tennessee or any river with a soul knows the depths descending when it comes to seeing the sun or moon stare


back, without shame, remorse, or guilt. This is what I remember she told her husband when they bedded down that night in the house that would begin


marriage. That house was built of twenty-four doves, rugs from India, cooking recipes from seven generations of mothers and their sisters,


and wave upon wave of tears, and the concrete of resolution for the steps that continue all the way to the heavens, past guardian dogs, dog


after dog to protect. They are humble earth angels, and the rowdiest, even nasty. You try and lick yourself like that, imagine. And the Old


Woman laughed as she slipped off her cheap shoes and parked them under the bed that lies at the center of the garden of good and evil. She’d seen it all. Done it


more than once. Tonight, she just wanted a good sleep, and picked up the book of poetry by her bed, which was over a journal she kept when her mother was dying.


These words from May Sarton she kept in the fourth room of her heart, “Love, come upon him warily and deep / For if he startle first it were as well / to bind a fox’s


throat with a gold bell /As hold him when it is his will to leap.” And she considered that every line of a poem was a lead line into the spirit world to capture a


bit of memory, pieces of gold confetti, a kind of celebration. We all want to be remembered, even memory, even the way the light came in the kitchen


window, when her mother turned up the dial on that cool mist color 
of a radio, when memory crossed the path of longing and took 
mother’s arm and she put down her apron


said, “I don’t mind if I do,” and they danced, you watching, as you began your own cache of remembering. Already you had stored the taste of mother as milk, father as a labor


of sweat and love, and night as a lonely boat of stars that took you into who you were before you slid through the hips of the story. There are no words when you cross the


gate of forbidden waters, or is it a sheer scarf of the finest silk, or is it something else that causes you to forget. Nothing is ever forgotten says the god of remembering


who protects the heartbeat of every little cell of knowing from the Antarctic to the soft spot at the top of this planetary baby. Oh baby, come here, let me tell you the story


of the party you will never forget, no matter where you go, where you are, or where you will be when you cross the line and say, no more. No more greedy kings, no more disappointments, no more orphans,


or thefts of souls or lands, no more killing for the sport of killing. No more, no more, except more of the story so I will understand exactly what I am doing here, and why, she said to the fox


guardian who took her arm to help her cross the road that was given to the care of Natives who made sure the earth spirits were fed with songs, and the other things they loved to eat. They like sweets, cookies, and flowers.


It was getting late and the fox guardian picked up her books as she hurried through the streets of strife. But it wasn’t getting late. There was no late, only a plate of tamales on the counter waiting to be


or not to be. At this age, said the fox, we are closer to the not to be, which is the to be in the fields of sweet grasses. Wherever you are, enjoy the evening, how the sun walks the horizon before cross


sing over to be, and we then exist under the realm of the moon. There’s where fears slay us, in the dark of the howling mind. We all battle. Befriend them, the moon said as a crab skittered under her skirt, her daughter in


the high chair, waiting for cereal and toast. What a girl she turned out to be, a willow tree, a blessing to the winds, to her family. There she is married, and we start the story all over again, said her father


in a toast to the happiness of who we are and who we are becoming as Change in a new model sedan whips it down the freeway toward the generations that follow, one after another in the original


lands of the Mvskoke who are still here. Nobody goes anywhere though we are always leaving and returning. It’s a ceremony. Sunrise occurs everywhere, in lizard time, human time, or a fern uncurling time. We


instinctually reach for light food, we digest it, make love, art or 
trouble of it. The sun crowns us at noon. The whole earth is a queen. Then there are always goodbyes. At sunset say goodbye to hurt, to suffering, to the pain you caused others,


or yourself. Goodbye, goodbye, to Carrie Fisher, the Star Wars phenomenon, and George Michael, the singer. They were planets in our emotional universe. Some of my memories are opened by the image of love on screen in an


imagined future, or broken open when the sax solo of “Careless Whisper” blows through the communal heart. Yes, there’s a cosmic consciousness. Jung named it but it was there long before named by Vedic and Mvskoke scientists. And, there is


a cosmic hearteousness — for the heart is the higher mind and nothing can be forgotten there, no ever or ever. How do I sing this so 
I don’t forget? Ask the poets. Each word is a box that can be opened or closed. Then a train of words, phrases


garnered by music and the need for rhythm to organize chaos. Like right here, now, in this poem is the transition phase. I remembered it while giving birth, summer sun bearing down on the city melting asphalt but there we were, my daughter


and I, at the door between worlds. I was happier than ever before to welcome her, happiness was the path she chose to enter, and 
I couldn’t push yet, not yet, and then there appeared a pool of the 
bluest water. We waited there for a breath


to catch up, and then it did, and she took it that girl who was beautiful beyond dolphin dreaming, and we made it, we did, to the other side of suffering. This is the story our mothers tell but we couldn’t hear it in our ears stuffed with Barbie advertising,


with our mothers’ own loathing set in place by patriarchal scripture, the smothering rules to stop insurrection by domesticated slaves, or wives. It hurt everybody. The fathers cannot know what they are feeling in such a spiritual backwash. Worship


boxes set into place by the need for money and power will not beget freedom. Only warships. For freedom, freedom, oh freedom sang the slaves, the oar rhythm of the blues lifting up the spirits of peoples whose bodies were worn out, or destroyed by a man’s slash,


hit of greed. This is our memory too, said America. Heredity is a field of blood, celebration, and forgetfulness. Don’t take on more than you can carry, said the eagle to his twin sons, fighting each other in the sky over a fox, dangling between


them. It’s that time of the year, when we eat tamales and latkes. We light candles, fires to make the way for a newborn child, for fresh 
understanding. Demons will try to make houses out of jealousy, anger, 
pride, greed, or more destructive material. They place them in a


part of the body that will hold them: liver, heart, knee, or brain. So, my friend, let’s let that go, for joy, for chocolates made of ashes, mangos, grapefruit, or chili from Oaxaca, for sparkling wine from Spain, for these children who show up in our dreams and want to live at any cost because


we are here to feed them joy. Your soul is so finely woven the silkworms went on strike, said the mulberry tree. We all have mulberry trees in the memory yard. They hold the place for skinned knees earned by small braveries, cousins you love who are gone, a father cutting a watermelon in the summer on the porch, and a mother so in love that her heart breaks — it will never be the same, yet all memory bends to fit. The heart has uncountable rooms. We turn to leave here, and so will the hedgehog who makes a home next to that porch. We become birds, poems.

Joy Harjo

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"I feel that the universe is full of glorious energy..." Richard Wilbur

For C.

After the clash of elevator gates
And the long sinking, she emerges where,
A slight thing in the morning’s crosstown glare,
She looks up toward the window where he waits,
Then in a fleeting taxi joins the rest
Of the huge traffic bound forever west.

On such grand scale do lovers say good-bye—
Even this other pair whose high romance
Had only the duration of a dance,
And who, now taking leave with stricken eye,
See each in each a whole new life forgone.
For them, above the darkling clubhouse lawn,

Bright Perseids flash and crumble; while for these
Who part now on the dock, weighed down by grief
And baggage, yet with something like relief,
It takes three thousand miles of knitting seas
To cancel out their crossing, and unmake
The amorous rough and tumble of their wake.


We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse
And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share
The frequent vistas of their large despair,
Where love and all are swept to nothingness;
Still, there’s a certain scope in that long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,

And which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament.

1921-2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Joyful Harvest Full Moon!

In Harvest

Mown meadows skirt the standing wheat; 
I linger, for the hay is sweet, 
New-cut and curing in the sun. 
Like furrows, straight, the windrows run, 
Fallen, gallant ranks that tossed and bent 
When, yesterday, the west wind went 
A-rioting through grass and grain. 
To-day no least breath stirs the plain; 
Only the hot air, quivering, yields 
Illusive motion to the fields 
Where not the slenderest tassel swings. 
Across the wheat flash sky-blue wings; 
A goldfinch dangles from a tall, 
Full-flowered yellow mullein; all 
The world seems turning blue and gold. 
Unstartled, since, even from of old, 
Beauty has brought keen sense of her, 
I feel the withering grasses stir; 
Along the edges of the wheat, 
I hear the rustle of her feet: 
And yet I know the whole sea lies, 
And half the earth, between our eyes. 

SophIe Jewett
1861-1909

Friday, August 11, 2017

Remembering Denis Johnson

Quickly Aging Here

1

nothing to drink in
the refrigerator but juice from
the pickles come back
long dead, or thin
catsup. i feel i am old

now, though surely i
am young enough? i feel that i have had
winters, too many heaped cold
and dry as reptiles into my slack skin.
i am not the kind to win

and win.
no i am not that kind, i can hear

my wife yelling, “goddamnit, quit
running over,” talking to
the stove, yelling, “i
mean it, just stop,” and i am old and

2

i wonder about everything: birds
clamber south, your car
kaputs in a blazing, dusty
nowhere, things happen, and constantly you

wish for your slight home, for
your wife’s rusted
voice slamming around the kitchen. so few

of us wonder why
we crowded, as strange,
monstrous bodies, blindly into one
another till the bed

choked, and our range
of impossible maneuvers was gone,
but isn’t it because by dissolving like so
much dust into the sheets we are crowding
south, into the kitchen, into
nowhere?

1949-2017

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Here's to summer and the ever-changing teenagers in our lives ~

Mermaid Song

for Aya at fifteen

Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself
upside down across the sofa, reading,
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on.
I think they are growing gills, swimming
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl,
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless,
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face
is the bright lure I look for, love's hook
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Celebrate National Poem In Your Pocket Day TODAY ~ put a poem in your pocket!


The Body

has its little hobbies. The lung
likes its air best after supper,
goes deeper there to trade up
for oxygen, give everything else
away. (And before supper, yes,
during too, but there’s
something about evening, that
slow breath of the day noticed: oh good,
still coming, still going ... ) As for
bones—femur, spine,
the tribe of them in there—they harden
with use. The body would like
a small mile or two. Thank you.
It would like it on a bike
or a run. Or in the water. Blue.
And food. A habit that involves
a larger circumference where a garden’s
involved, beer is brewed, cows
wake the farmer with their fullness,
a field surrenders its wheat, and wheat
understands I will be crushed
into flour and starry-dust
the whole room, the baker
sweating, opening a window
to acknowledge such remarkable
confetti. And the brain,
locked in its strange
dual citizenship, idles there in the body,
neatly terraced and landscaped.
Or left to ruin, such a brain,
wild roses growing
next to the sea. The body is
gracious about that. Oh, their
scent sometimes. Their
tangle. In truth, in secret,
the first thing
in morning the eye longs to see.

Marianne Boruch

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's April & that means National Poetry Month! Ocean Vuong Reads with Camille Rankine at the Poetry Center on April 6th, 7pm!

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong

Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry.
Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—& mistake these walls
for skin.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

To the first day of March and wide open prairie ~

To make a prairie (1755)

To make a prairie it takes one clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Emily Dickinson
1830-1886

Monday, February 13, 2017

Poem for V-Day!

You, Therefore

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are
a concordance of person, number, voice,
and place, strawberries spread through your name
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,
when there was snow), you are my right,
have come to be my night (your body takes on
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep
becomes you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name

Reginald Shepherd
(1963-2008)