Joy Harjo

Hard times —  a Congress locked in venom and contempt for those with whom one must negotiate,  “partisan” is a common adjective for elected officials at the national level;   Detroit city caught in uncertainties about bankruptcy that stir mistrust and fear for the future;   UDM negotiating a McNichols faculty contract turned acrimonious and hurtful.

Today’s poem

I met Joy Harjo, a Muscogee-Cherokee poet, when she was 16 and I was assigned to teach her in place of her Bureau of Indian Affairs English teacher.  I was at The Institute of American Indian Arts for half a year in 1968 teaching remedial reading.  Joy was brilliant and deeply insightful.  We are still close friends.

I think this is my favorite of her poems, “Grace.”   Blessings on your day.

john st sj

I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway

in the cursed country of the fox.  We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks.   The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat dreams, and we couldn’t stand it one more time. So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us, in the epic search for grace.

Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a season of false midnights.  We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey. And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.

I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn.

I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw. We didn’t; the next season was worse. You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south. And, Wind, I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.


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