by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
“Not what we say about our blessings,
but how we use them, is the true
measure of our Thanksgiving.”
— W.T. Purkiser,
author of The Gifts of the Spirit
Thanksgiving has been a time for many Americans of family gatherings, feasting, and football watching. But in recent years, it has not been possible for many of us to gather together because of the global pandemic, and the economic upheaval it has caused. But even before the pandemic, there had been a growing need to address the terrible impact that the arrival of Europeans on this continent had upon the peoples who were already here.
Congress took a small step toward facing this issue in 1990 when it designated November as National American Indian Heritage Month, and in 2008, designated the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day. However, some American Indians feel that day is a poor choice, since it coincides with the aggressive capitalism and greed of ‘Black Friday,’ the annual opening day of the Christmas shopping frenzy. Thanksgiving itself is for some a “day of mourning” as it is viewed as a celebration of the survival of the Pilgrims, who were part of the first wave of colonialists to arrive in North America, which would so drastically wipe out millions of the First Peoples, and end forever much of the way of life of the survivors. (See Tuesday’s post “Thanksgiving Without Pilgrims” for more background on the original reasons for the Thanksgiving holiday.)
Joy Harjo (1952 – ) is a poet, musician, author, activist, and teacher, and a three-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2019-2021). Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she is member of the Mvskoke tribe, and a highly influential figure in the second wave of the artistic Native American Renaissance. She studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts, earned her undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico, and an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Creative Writing Program. Harjo is the recipient of many awards, including the 2009 Eagle Spirit Achievement Award and the Wallace Stevens Award in Poetry by the Academy of American Poets.
So as I have for several previous Novembers, I offer Joy Harjo’s poem, “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” which seems to me to express both something unique to her Mvskoke heritage, and something universal about kitchen tables and the meaning of family.
Perhaps the World Ends Here
by Joy Harjo
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
Irene Fowler will return with a new post next Thursday.