More Joy Harjo

I love Joy Harjo’s work so much. Yesterday’s piece prompted me to read some more of her poems, and they are just exquisite. I decided to post this one today, but I heartily recommend you go look up more of her work on your own. Her work is clear-eyed and forthright and beautiful. Enjoy.

When the World As We Knew It Ended
by Joy Harjo

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 on–
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
being.

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.

Morning Song

My favorite pre-Easter poem is “What the Thunder Said” from TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. The search for water in a barren place resonates with my understanding of the Savior and His impact in my life. Not everyone reads it that way, of course, but I do. Unfortunately, it’s far too long a piece for me to post here (though that it hasn’t stopped me before), so here is a post about something entirely different, not related to Easter at all.

Morning Song
by Joy Harjo

The red dawn now is rearranging the earth
Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty
Each sunrise a link in the ladder
The ladder the backbone
Of shimmering deity
Child stirring in the web of your mother
Do no be afraid
Old man turning to walk through the door
Do not be afraid

 

 

 

Long ago I heard footsteps

I really want to say things about this poem, but I think if I say things, I will give away “the turn.” So here is a poem. Meet me in the comments and we’ll talk.

Long ago I heard footsteps
by Miriam Bird Greenberg

Long ago I heard footsteps
come to the door, and a man

knocking. We’ve had an accident

up on the road, can you help
he pled at the unanswered door,

and kept knocking.

He might have been a thief
but soon enough a woman’s howl

lit up the night, and I put a knife
in my belt. Around dawn

I figured their fortunes
might be worth change.

 

Little Father

Here is a piece by Li-Young Lee. I have only recently begun exploring his work, but it is phenomenal. If you enjoy this piece, or are moved by this piece, or intrigued, inspired, etc.– want more of this piece, check out more of his work from your local library, or online here. Also, if reading all this poetry encourages you to try your hand at it, pop over to my friend Stephanie’s blog. She’s teaching how to write a different poem every day this month, so you’ll have lots of chances to try different things.

Little Father
by Li-Young Lee

I buried my father
in the sky.
Since then, the birds
clean and comb him every morning
and pull the blanket up to his chin
every night.

I buried my father underground.
Since then, my ladders
only climb down,
and all the earth has become a house
whose rooms are the hours, whose doors
stand open at evening, receiving
guest after guest.
Sometimes I see past them
to the tables spread for a wedding feast.

I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,
my little root who won’t drink milk,
little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,
little clock spring newly wet
in the fire, little grape, parent to the future
wine, a son the fruit of his own son,
little father I ransom with my life.

The Quality of Mercy

Portia’s speech on mercy, from The Merchant of Venice. I may have posted it during previous years, but it’s worth repeating.

 

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, . . .
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

 

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep

Welcome back, friends! It’s April, which means a poem every day– or at least every I remember to post one here. One of the things I love about poetry is its ability to take BIG FEELINGS and bring them down to small, manageable words, while still retaining the importance and weight of the original feelings. Prose conveys information; poetry, experience.

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

 

 

Advent: Hope (A Surprise)

Advent catches me off guard every year. Today, I found it in the Book of Mormon.

Advent catches me off guard every year. Maybe because it is a solitary sort of observance for me, as neither my son nor husband are particularly interested in it (they have other, less formal, ways of keeping their focus on Christ this time of year), or maybe because I expect it to start later than it does, or maybe because I’m always a little unaware of myself in relation to the passage of time. Regardless, right about the time of year I start thinking, “Gosh, is it dark already?” Advent arrives. Appropriate, no?

A few friends of mine posted their Advent lighting on Sunday. I thought, “Ah, it’s that time of year, of course.” I had forgotten, as usual. It was a pleasant surprise. My friends are observing “hope” this week. They’ve all had pretty difficult things happen this year (2016, you are the worst), and seeing them reflect on the virtue of Hope this week was inspiring. So I gave their posts a little thumbs up and moved on.

Today, I was surprised by advent during my scripture reading. I thought it might be nice to study some accounts of the Savior’s birth, and I encountered hope there. I don’t know why I was surprised by it. It’s right there in the song: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” I mean, it’s not scripture, but it’s close, right? But I had forgotten, as one does. Majesty and humility, I remembered, glory, joy, and salvation, but hope slipped my mind entirely. As it does.

Anyway, today I read the account of Christ’s birth as related in the Book of Mormon, in the first chapter of 3 Nephi. The Christians are having a rough time. The people around them think they’re bonkers. A while back, a prophet went around saying Christ would be born by a certain time, and here were all these signs that he was going to be born. The signs appeared, but not THE sign. So the unbelievers mocked, which would be bad enough, except then they decided that if THE sign had not appeared by a certain date, they were just going to kill all the followers of Christ. Na na na na boo boo, I guess.

So their leader, Nephi, is distressed. Things are looking grim. He pours out his soul in prayer. We aren’t given his words, but I’m sure you can imagine what they might be like. I’m sure we’ve all had similar prayers. I’m guessing it was something along the lines of “Please oh please oh please help,” maybe mixed with, “I don’t understand,” and “Why is this happening to us when we have done everything you said?” I’ve prayed all of those prayers.

And Christ comes to him, as He always does, and offers Nephi hope. “Lift up your head and be of good cheer,” He says, “for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world.” Which, now that I think about it, is basically what He always says: “Don’t worry, I’m coming.”

And guys, get this: THE sign? Is a night with no darkness. How perfect is that? How appropriate and fitting, that the Light of the World should be signified by literal light? In addition to the new star in the heavens, this light brightens the whole Nephite city. “For behold, at the going down of the sun, there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.”

And this is the promise and the hope Christ leaves with us, that when our Night comes, we can be filled with Light instead of Darkness. Even though the people in the Book of Mormon had been told what to expect, when the sign came, many of them fell to earth, just dropped dead (but not actually dead) from the shock of it. Hope surprises us. It surprises us by showing that the Lord keeps His promises. It surprises us by keeping watch with us all night long. It surprises us simply by showing up, an unexpected friend at a rather dull and uncomfortable party.

Hope isn’t going to sneak up on me again this year, though. I know it’s there now. Shepherds, wise men, Nephites all watched. I’m watching now, too.