TCS: History Within Breathing Distance

. . Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings.
This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning
a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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The literature of the aboriginal people
of North America defines America. It is
not exotic. The concerns are particular,
yet often universal.

– Joy Harjo

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There was a small news item last week that was probably overlooked by most Americans. It happens in June, every year or two. At our national bastion of all the words, the Library of Congress, a new Poet Laureate was announced.

There have been a lot of firsts at these announcements. The first Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, as this job was originally called, was Joseph Auslander, who served from 1938 to 1941, when the term was changed to 1 year, with an option for a second term. And other firsts: Louise Bogan, the first woman (1945-1946); Robert Hayden, the first African American (1976-1978); Louis Untermeyer, the Jewish writer and poet who was blacklisted from television in the 1950s, but became Poet Laureate in 1961 and served until 1963; Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American woman (1985-1986); and Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Chicano (2015-2017). But in 82 years of poets, a poet of the First Peoples of the land had never been asked to become America’s poet. Until now.

Last week, it was announced that the new Poet Laureate would be Joy Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke Creek Nation. She is a poet, musician, author, activist, teacher, and also a highly influential figure in the second wave of the artistic Native American Renaissance. She says the name ‘Harjo’ means ‘so brave you’re crazy.’



In 2013, author Jane Ciabattari asked Joy Harjo in an interview what she draws from her heritage, and she responded:

“Colonization is one of the first confrontations for any of us. Who are we before and after the encounter? And how do we imagine ourselves with an integrity and freshness outside the sludge and despair of destruction? I am seven generations from Monahwee, who, with the rest of the Red Stick contingent, fought Andrew Jackson at The Battle of Horseshoe Bend in what is now known as Alabama. Our tribe was removed unlawfully from our homelands. Seven generations can live under one roof. That sense of time brings history close, within breathing distance. I call it ancestor time. Everything is a living being, even time, even words.”

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Anchorage

. . . . . . . . . . . . .  for Audre Lorde

This city is made of stone, of blood, and fish.
There are Chugatch Mountains to the east
and whale and seal to the west.
It hasn’t always been this way, because glaciers
who are ice ghosts create oceans, carve earth
and shape this city here, by the sound.
They swim backwards in time.

Once a storm of boiling earth cracked open
the streets, threw open the town.
It’s quiet now, but underneath the concrete
is the cooking earth,
. . . . . . . . . . . .  and above that, air
which is another ocean, where spirits we can’t see
are dancing . . . . . . . joking  . . . . . . . . getting full
on roasted caribou, and the praying
goes on, extends out.

Nora and I go walking down 4th Avenue
and know it is all happening.
On a park bench we see someone’s Athabascan
grandmother, folded up, smelling like 200 years
of blood and piss, her eyes closed against some
unimagined darkness, where she is buried in an ache
in which nothing makes
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . sense.

We keep on breathing, walking, but softer now,
the clouds whirling in the air above us.
What can we say that would make us understand
better than we do already?
Except to speak of her home and claim her
as our own history, and know that our dreams
don’t end here, two blocks away from the ocean
where our hearts still batter away at the muddy shore.

And I think of the 6th Avenue jail, of mostly Native
and Black men, where Henry told about being shot at
eight times outside a liquor store in L.A., but when
the car sped away he was surprised he was alive,
no bullet holes, man, and eight cartridges strewn
on the sidewalk
. . . . . . . . . . .. all around him.

Everyone laughed at the impossibility of it,
but also the truth. Because who would believe
the fantastic and terrible story of all of our survival
those who were never meant
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . to survive?


“Anchorage” from She Had Some Horses © 2008 by Joy HarjoW. W. Norton & Company

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This Morning I Pray for My Enemies

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.


“This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems; © 2015 W. W. Norton & Company

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Perhaps the World Ends Here 

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.


“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, © 1994 by Joy Harjo – W.W. Norton & Company

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Visuals

  • Mvskoke Wheel
  • Joy Harjo

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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2 Responses to TCS: History Within Breathing Distance

  1. Malisha says:

    Oh beautiful beautiful, thank you.

    • wordcloud9 says:

      You’re welcome Malisha –

      I’m really curious about what Harjo’s project will be as Poet Laureate

Comments are closed.