Sept 23 – The Poet and the Pope

Wednesday, September 23 –  “I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.”

I have not met most of the poets who find their way to this “Work Day in a Hard Time” poetry list; some lived centuries ago,  with others, our paths just haven’t intersected.   The mission of the Work Day list is to introduce poets who write flint-hard language that takes the reader into the heart of the human condition,  language that does not flinch from violence, does not evade tenderness.  Joy Harjo is a soul friend I have known since 1968.  When I heard last week that Joy had received the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award I was thrilled: {“The Wallace Stevens Award is given annually to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. Established in 1994, the award carries a $100,000 stipend. Recipients are chosen by the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors. No applications are accepted.”}.

This week Pope Francis is on my mind too.   I looked for one of Joy’s poems that Pope Francis would  understand deep in his soul; and found an early poem, “Grace”  {In Mad Love and War, 1990}.    Francis does not work fluently in English, but his constant attention to people who are cut off from the world’s well-tended places, makes it easy to imagine that he would read “Grace” and feel at home here:  “I think of the Church is a field hospital on the world’s battlefield.  When someone arrives, battered and in crisis, you don’t test her cholesterol level.  You try to get to the heart of the violence that threatens his life.”  {n.b., loose translation on a busy morning w/o time to look it up}.   This poet and this pope have voices that touch the world as beautiful and brave, as tragic and comic and sacred.

Congratulations on the Wallace Stevens Prize, Joy.  Welcome to the US, Francis.

Best to read the poem aloud,  with pauses, several times.

Today’s Post:   “Grace”

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.

Joy-Harjo PopeFrancisHolyThurs
 Joy Harjo  Francis washing prisoners’ feet
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