March 27 Joy Harjo & America

Thursday   March 27  –  Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace

The March 31 issue of the national Jesuit journal America publishes its first Joy Harjo poem.  Harjo brings loss and despair, and the resonant humor of embarrassment, into tight, sacred focus.  Listening for the focus can open me into beauty, and hope.  All the more astonishing because so improbable.

As with all poems,  it’s better to read “Insomnia” out loud.

For many UDM faculty today is the first day of a signed contract in a long time.   Blessings.

john sj


Today’s Post

Joy Harjo


Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace

At dawn the panther of the heavens peers over the edge of the world.
She hears the stars gossip with the sun, sees the moon washing her lean
darkness with water electrified by prayers. All over the world there are those
who can’t sleep, those who never awaken.My granddaughter sleeps on the breast of her mother with milk on
her mouth. A fly contemplates the sweetness of lactose.

Her father is wrapped in the blanket of nightmares. For safety he
approaches the red hills near Thoreau. They recognize him and sing for

Her mother has business in the house of chaos. She is a prophet dis-
guised as a young mother who is looking for a job. She appears at the
door of my dreams and we put the house back together.

Panther watches as human and animal souls are lifted to the heavens by
rain clouds to partake of songs of beautiful thunder.

Others are led by deer and antelope in the wistful hours to the vil-
lages of their ancestors. There they eat cornmeal cooked with berries
that stain their lips with purple while the tree of life flickers in the sun.

It’s October, though the season before dawn is always winter. On the
city streets of this desert town lit by chemical yellow travelers
search for home.

Some have been drinking and intimate with strangers. Others are
escapees from the night shift, sip lukewarm coffee, shift gears to the
other side of darkness.

One woman stops at a red light, turns over a worn tape to the last
chorus of a whispery blues. She has decided to live another day.

The stars take notice, as do the half-asleep flowers, prickly pear and
chinaberry tree who drink exhaust into their roots, into the earth.

She guns the light to home where her children are asleep and may
never know she ever left. That their fate took a turn in the land of
nightmares toward the sun may be untouchable knowledge.

It is a sweet sound.

The panther relative yawns and puts her head between her paws.
She dreams of the house of panthers and the seven steps to grace.
Joy Harjo has published seven books of poetry. Her most recent publication is a memoir, Crazy Brave (W. W. Norton, 2012), winner of the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction.


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