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An American Sunrise

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A nationally best-selling volume of wise, powerful poetry from the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States. In this stunning collection, Joy Harjo finds blessings in the abundance of her homeland and confronts the site where the Mvskoke people, including her own ancestors, were forcibly displaced. From her memory of her mother’s death, to her beginnings in the Native rights movement, to the fresh road with her beloved, Harjo’s personal life intertwines with tribal histories to create a space for renewed beginnings.

144 pages, Paperback

First published August 13, 2019

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About the author

Joy Harjo

82 books1,539 followers
Bio Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. She has released four award-winning CD's of original music and won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year. She performs nationally and internationally solo and with her band, The Arrow Dynamics. She has appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, in venues in every major U.S. city and internationally. Most recently she performed We Were There When Jazz Was Invented at the Chan Centre at UBC in Vancouver, BC, and appeared at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Her one-woman show, Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light, which features guitarist Larry Mitchell premiered in Los Angeles in 2009, with recent performances at Joe’s Pub in New York City, LaJolla Playhouse as part of the Native Voices at the Autry, and the University of British Columbia. Her seven books of poetry include such well-known titles as How We Became Human- New and Selected Poems and She Had Some Horses. Her awards include the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. She was recently awarded 2011 Artist of the Year from the Mvskoke Women’s Leadership Initiative, and a Rasmuson US Artists Fellowship. She is a founding board member and treasurer of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Harjo writes a column Comings and Goings for her tribal newspaper, the Muscogee Nation News. Soul Talk, Song Language, Conversations with Joy Harjo was recently released from Wesleyan University Press. Crazy Brave, a memoir is her newest publication from W.W. Norton, and a new album of music is being produced by the drummer/producer Barrett Martin. She is at work on a new shows: We Were There When Jazz Was Invented, a musical story that proves southeastern indigenous tribes were part of the origins of American music. She lives in the Mvskoke Nation of Oklahoma.

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5 stars
2,678 (45%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 892 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
January 23, 2020
There is nothing quite like poetry to give balm to ones soul. Thoughts, feelings, praises, regret, hopes, dreams told with few words but great emotion. Here, the US poet Laurete, Jo Harjo returns to her native land and in a series of works honors what was, what was lost, taken away and what will never come again. The poems are beautiful, regretful and bittersweet, but most of assessible to all readers, lovers of poetry or not.

The piece I'm quoting is part of a longer work, but this section called out to me.

"4. West

Sunsets, bring
Brings black.
We find solitude,
Time to take in breathe and
Even in darkness you
Can be found.
Call out even in a whisper
Of wimper,
You will be heard.
To find,
To be found,
To be understood,
To be seen,
Heard, felt.
You are,
You are,
You are
You are,
Right here."
Profile Image for Sarah.
340 reviews96 followers
November 24, 2022
This collection is short, and I chose the audiobook because it’s read by the author.

I won’t analyze each offering, but I would like to share a brief, illustrative story about one poem called Washing My Mother's Body.

I listened to this poem, which is fairly long, without much emotion as I drove to pick up dinner. I heard the words, but I didn’t realize how deep they were hitting until I got a strong urge to call my mother. For some reason, I tried telling her about the poem, and I got exactly three words into my sentence before crumbling into tears, after which I blubbered something like: “She’s washing her body… *sob*… and it turns into a sort of prayer… *snot*… and she’s just remembering…and thanking her mother for…*sniffle*… all the sacrifices she made… and saying goodbye… and mom, you need to keep living for a long time, okay?!”

My mother was quiet for a moment, then I heard a small whimper on her end of the line, and then she inexplicably switched gears, drove us to safer terrain, “You know,” she said, “they used to wash bodies in our family, and not too long ago. My grandmother did it. You had to, because there weren’t any embalmers way out in the country and you just buried your own dead.” She continued her history lesson a while, talking much faster than usual, and then she blurted out directions to cremate herself and my father when they pass, “And we don’t care what you do with the ashes. We’ll be gone, so just do what you want. We don't even need a funeral, really.”

Strange, huh? From tender tears to stone cold last wishes in under a minute.

I’m sharing this because Harjo’s collection unfolds in a manner similar to my conversation with my mother. It gets very emotional for a poem or two, then switches to a history lesson, then it gets sexy, then it shares truths about the white man ("We were called heathen/But who is the heathen here/And when a people strips your spirit of your body/And sells your red skins for bounty/Then they are the ones who have broken the law."), then there are poems of hopelessness mixed with anger and plans of action at the local bar, then a bedazzling origin story, then a trickster tale, then a series of wisdom psalms (some of which the author really does sing, to my delight), then something funny, then another tear-jerker...

Life is like that, I guess. A mixed bag that never holds still long enough for us to get to the bottom of one emotion before another rises to the fore.

This is my first Joy Harjo book, though I did watch her Masterclass prior to reading it. I'm already eager to read another.

All memory bends to fit.
We become poems.

Book/Song Pairing: Calling the Spirit Back (Joy Harjo)
Profile Image for Brina.
887 reviews4 followers
August 30, 2019
Joy Harjo has been named the new US Poet Laureate in 2019, becoming the first Native American to hold the position. American Sunrise is her first published work since becoming the top poet in the United States, and, as with other collections of hers that I have read, she does not disappoint here. This new volume pays homage to her ancestors who traveled the Trail of Tears. Her spiritual grandfather Monawee has been able to travel beyond the boundaries of time and visit members of his tribe and blessing them with good tidings. Harjo talks of Monawee as well as her aunts, uncles, and grandparents, noting that she and her grandmother share a love of the saxophone, both being above average musicians. After reading Harjo’s memoir Crazy Brave earlier this year, her poetry does not seem as powerful to me because I am now familiar with its backstory. Yet, the prose is still poignant, and Harjo interjects the poems with historical anecdotes of the Cherokee Trail of Tears and how her Ocmulgee people have gotten to where they are today. Now that Harjo is the US Poet Laureate, I look forward to upcoming expressive work of hers. She has been a prominent poet for years now, and is much deserving of this honor.

4 stars
Profile Image for Jennifer Welsh.
218 reviews160 followers
December 4, 2020
Some nice cross-pollination between this and her memoir, Crazy Brave. I chose the audible version in which Harjo reads her own work. Lovely voice. Except when she sings. Her poetry is informative; it very organically paints a portrait of Native American culture and experience. But her poetry is ok. I liked it more as I listened, and then by the end I was tired of it. Still, I enjoyed the experience of learning through her, and the two books together supported the learning of that experience.
Profile Image for Leslie.
287 reviews105 followers
September 3, 2019
Singing Everything
by Joy Harjo

Once there were songs for everything,
Songs for planting, for growing, for harvesting,
For eating, getting drunk, falling asleep,
For sunrise, birth, mind-break, and war.
For death (those are the heaviest songs and they
Have to be pried from the earth with shovels of grief).
Now all we hear are falling-in-love songs and
Falling apart after falling in love songs.
The earth is leaning sideways
And a song is emerging from the floods
And fires. Urgent tendrils lift toward the sun.
You must be friends with silence to hear.
The songs of the guardians of silence are the most powerful ---
They are the most rare.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,194 reviews1,245 followers
January 20, 2022
Within intense misfortunes and cruel injustices, the seeds of blessings grow.

And we have been blessed with the heart and mind of Joy Harjo, Poet Laurete of the United States in 2019. You can't be a voice for a people unless you have immersed yourself in the walk-through of suffering, desperation, joyless moments, and the elements of want. And you can't be a voice for a people unless you have touched the threads of happiness, determination, and the soft murmur of satisfaction. Harjo does know.....

Respect lies in the acknowledgement of all Native American Nations across this land. Harjo speaks in the tones of the beginnings of the Mvskoke originally east of the Mississippi River. But in these things, the lines fade and then take on unstable shapes and forms. But the tribal histories remain steadfast in the remembering past down from generation to generation. History, in its cruelties, remains rock solid in the bones. To be "removed", in no uncertain terms, does not squander the source of "being" found in spirit and truth.

Joy Harjo is a superb storyteller traveling the current of her poetry. Her words can be brutal, revealing, and smack-you-in-the-face raw. And at the same time, Harjo can be tender and can leave deep furrows in the heart with "Washing My Mother's Body":

"I step in to make my ritual. To do what should have been done, what needs to be fixed so that my spirit can move on,
So that the children and the grandchildren are not caught up in a knot
Of regret they do not understand."

An American Sunrise is also a theme of hope. That we see with the eyes of the soul rather than with the eyes of indifference. Indifference is the cruelest of all. Let me leave you with this: "Every increment of any thought, action, or deed matters, has consequences in all directions."
"There will be no balance without all voices present in the power circle."
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,040 followers
April 19, 2020
USA Poet Laureate Joy Harjo returns to the lands her (Mvskoke, sometimes referred to as Creek) grandparents were removed from, and writes here about the history, the experience, the people. Brief blurbs explaining history and quotes from oral histories and other poets are interwoven with her own work. Time moves in a spiral and the generations are not finished speaking.

Favorites include:
Directions to You
Washing My Mother's Body
For Earth's Grandsons
Let There Be No Regrets

"...And no matter what happens in these times of breaking–
No matter dictators, the heartless, and liars
No matter– you are born of those
Who kept ceremonial embers burning in their hands
All through the miles of relentless exile
Those who sang the path through massacre
All the way to sunrise
You will make it through—"
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
December 7, 2021
Joy Harjo's An American Sunrise—her eighth collection of poems—revisits the homeland in Alabama from which her ancestors were uprooted in 1830 as a result of the Indian Removal Act signed by President Andrew Jackson. The Mvskoke people were forcibly removed from their original lands east of the Mississippi to "Indian Territory," which is now part of Oklahoma, via what is now referred to as The Trail of Tears,

An American Sunrise
Joy Harjo

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves.
We were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready
to strike. It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you
were straight. Easy if you played pool and drank to remember
to forget. We made plans to be professional — and did. And
Some of us could sing so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up
to those starry stars. Sin was invented by the Christians, as was
the Devil, we sang. We were the heathens, but needed to be saved
from them — thin chance. We knew we were all related in this
story, a little gin will clarify the dark and make us all feel like
dancing. We had something to do with the origins of blues
and jazz I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes
in June, forty years later and we still want justice. We are still
America. We know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out.
They die soon.

Here's her band's song, thanks to my friend S. Penkivich's tip:


Harjo told Contemporary Authors: “I agree with Gide that most of what is created is beyond us, is from that source of utter creation, the Creator, or God. We are technicians here on Earth, but also co-creators. I’m still amazed. And I still say, after writing poetry for all this time, and now music, that ultimately humans have a small hand in it. We serve it. We have to put ourselves in the way of it, and get out of the way of ourselves. And we have to hone our craft so that the form in which we hold our poems, our songs in attracts the best.”

I listened to the author reading her own work, which was a treat. As it is a book about one of the worst episodes in American history, it not surprisingly has anger in it, but there is also hope and spiritual power and resilience and fancy dancing and music in it.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,700 reviews2,299 followers
November 25, 2020
Who sings to the plants
That are grown for our plates?
Are they gathered lovingly
In aprons or arms?
Or do they suffer the fate
Of the motor-driven whip
Of the monster reaper?
No song at all, only
The sound of money
Being stacked in a bank
Who stitched the seams in my clothes
One line after another?
Was the room sweaty and dark
With no hour to spare?
Did she have enough to eat?
Did she have a home anywhere?
Or did she live on the floor?
And where were the children?
Or was the seamstress the child
With no home of his or her own?
Who sacrifices to make clothes
For strangers of another country?
And why?
Let’s remember to thank the grower of food
The picker, the driver,
The sun and the rain.
Let’s remember to thank each maker of stitch
Any layer of pattern,
The dyer of color
In the immense house of beauty and pain.
Let’s honor the maker.
Let’s honor what’s made.
~"Honoring" by Joy Harjo from AN AMERICAN SUNRISE, 2019.

Just finished my 2nd poetry collection by the incomparable Joy Harjo. I've noted many times and other poetry readers can likely attest, you never really "finish" a poetry collection...

This poem's radical compassion and gratitude struck me, and I've reread the poem a number of times to meditate on the words and descriptions.

This same consideration and mindfulness extending to the food, the clothes, but also to the technology we hold right *here* in our hands. The materials extracted from the earth, the people who manufactured and assembled our devices. The people who loaded the devices on ships, planes, shelves, and on delivery trucks.

Let's honor the maker.
Let's honor what's made.
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,706 reviews129 followers
November 18, 2021
A Lovely Collection

This truly a beautiful group of poems. They are based on the beliefs and feeling of Native Americans.

Their love for the land is reflected throughout. I especially loved the final poem that gives thanks for all aspects of Mother Earth

This is a good one to savor.
Profile Image for Kevin.
478 reviews71 followers
December 19, 2022
I was born and raised in the Mvskoke nation of Oklahoma. In those days, we always referred to it as the “Creek” nation, a moniker assigned to Mvskokes by white immigrants. While I myself have no native american ancestry, I grew up immersed in pow wow country and surrounded by Mvskoke (and Seminole, and Cherokee, and Choctaw) friends.

In Mvskoke-land, Harjos are everywhere. The surname is about as common as caucasian “Smith.” I say this because seeing the name Harjo associated with the title ‘Poet Laureate’ gives me a bit of nostalgic homeboy pride. It is my distinction by association. It is my prestige by proxy.

I absolutely love Joy Harjo. As a representative of indigenous peoples (and Oklahoma) I love what she brings to the table. She is more than a poet, she is a force of nature. But, and here is where I turn from socialite to troglodyte, I like-NOT-love poetry. I’ll take good prose over great poetry every time. Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf… I like their poetry, but I LOVE The Ways of White Folks and The Bell Jar and A Room of One’s Own. Respectively and respectfully.

I’m off to read Poet Warrior.

*For more insight into Mvskoke-Land, check out the FX series Reservation Dogs written and directed by Sterlin HARJO.
Profile Image for Deborah.
731 reviews46 followers
October 6, 2019
Named the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019, Joy Harjo has written a collection of poems honoring her tribal history, her mother, ancestors, singing, remembrance, exile, saxophone, spirituality, and much more. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. Her tribal ancestors of Muscogees (Mvskokes) were ousted from their homes and lands in Alabama, forced to abandon their lives and possessions, and trudged a Trail of Tears to the Oklahoma Territory. I was surprised to learn that it was illegal for native persons of the U.S. to practice religious, spiritual, and cultural rituals until the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 was enacted. She returned to where her people were ousted. She explores the “destruction and disrespect” of the native sovereign nations. Not only is she the first Native American Poet Laureate, she is an author of books, poetry, and plays and a musician.

Some selections:

“I was taught to give honor to the house of warriors
Which cannot exist without the house of the peacemakers.”
(From The Fight)

“He knew one day, far day, the grandchildren would return, generations later over slick highways, constructed over old trails
Through walls of laws meant to hamper or destroy, over stones bearing libraries of the winds.
He sang us back
to our home place from which we were stolen
in these smoky green hills.”
(From How to Write a Poem in a Time of War)

“I am a star falling from the night sky
I need you to catch me
I am a rainbow lifting from a dark cloud
I need you to see me”
(from Falling from the Night Sky)

My favorite poems were Washing My Mother’s Body, Singing Everything; For Those Who Govern; and Advice for Countries, Advanced, Developing and Falling.
Profile Image for Edward.
335 reviews891 followers
March 5, 2022
Harjo has a beautiful, poetic voice that leaves a unique impression upon you - mix that with the originality of the topics of her poems and you have a collection here that is truly remarkable.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,655 reviews273 followers
November 17, 2021
I have been reading these poems by Native American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo over the past month. The collection is a perfect companion to her memoir, Poet Warrior.

I am a mere beginner when it comes to reading poetry. I began reading a poem a day in 2016 with Mary Oliver's A Thousand Mornings. I have learned that just as there are many ways to tell a story in fiction, there are many ways to write a poem. With some poems I can get pretty close to what they are about. Others confound me. I usually read poems aloud because I feel I connect better that way.

Joy Harjo's poems just went right to my heart and mind. Having read her memoir I already had the background on her life and the lives of her family and ancestors, the sad and shameful tale of the Trail of Tears, when her Muscogee ancestors were forcibly removed from their lands in Arkansas and marched to barren lands in Oklahoma, the struggles of her people to find their places in American life.

The poems, some of which are prose poems, some free verse, some influenced by Native American songs and rites, sing with truth and even hope. Not just hope for Native Americans but also for all of us that we can reconnect to the land and plants and creatures. Though all peoples of the world carry violence and war in our make up, Joy is essentially a pacifist. Thus she speaks to her own people but to all of us with her plea for living in harmony with our environment and each other.

She reminds me that it is both possible and essential that such ideas be entered into human consciousness by way of words and music and action.
Profile Image for Kristen.
246 reviews20 followers
April 22, 2021
There are a few excellent pieces that I’m looking forward to teaching in this one. Enjoyed most of them, but as usual, some went over my head or didn’t resonate with me as much. But for someone who doesn’t love poetry, I really did enjoy it!
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,168 reviews74 followers
July 6, 2020
This is the first poetry I’ve read by Joy Harjo, who was named US Poet Laureate in 2019. In 1830 Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, forcing indigenous peoples out of the southeastern United States. Harjo’s family were force-marched from current-day Alabama to Oklahoma. This collection takes that Trail of Tears as a backbone, interweaving experiences from Harjo’s own life and politics, as well as relationships with the natural world, family, and those around her. I was grateful to learn something of the (shameful) historical context - Harjo intersperses stories from her own family as well as excerpts from oral history of the time. Among the poems, I found Washing My Mother’s Body especially moving.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,218 reviews376 followers
November 14, 2022
A gorgeous, moving, devastating collection. I recommend the audio so Joy can read and sing to you. Planning on a reread to see how the words and phrasing are structured.

from Bless This Land:

Bless us, these lands, said the rememberer. These lands aren’t our
lands. These lands aren’t your lands. We are this land.

And the blessing began a graceful moving through the grasses
of time, from the beginning, to the circling around place of time,
always moving, always
Profile Image for Shirleynature.
199 reviews59 followers
October 26, 2020
Thought provoking, vivid, and mindfully rooted in Mvskoke heritage.
For Those Who Would Govern" is a wise lyrical poem in 7 questions.
I feel honored to again listen to this wise woman read her poetic verse.
Profile Image for Leigh Kramer.
Author 1 book1,165 followers
April 28, 2022
A stunning, powerful collection using a range of forms that examines the forced displacement of Harjo's Mvskoke ancestors from Alabama due to President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act in 1830. Several lines stopped me in my tracks.

CW: Trail of Tears, forced displacement, death of loved ones (including murder of grandfather by Andrew Jackson’s troops), war, government removal of children to residential schools, religous indoctrination, self-harm, death by suicide, substance abuse, alcoholism, pregnancy, labor and delivery, gender essentialism, mentions of women who were raped and murdered, mentions of men killed by the police, reference to intimate partner violence
Profile Image for Fernanda Otero.
191 reviews25 followers
June 21, 2022
We are right. We build walls to keep anyone who is not like us out of here. God gave us these lands. We separate children and cage them because they are breaking our God’s law.

** I know this is out of context but it’s criticizing not supporting 🙌🏻

Estuvo interesante este poemario, no tengo un acercamiento a los pieles Rojas pero esta autora la recomendó Matt Haig así que decidí aprender de ellos. Esta muy bonito como honran la naturaleza y cómo aman 🙌🏻 creo que su cosmovisión es otra que la conquista quiso acabar y no lo lograron.
Profile Image for Ben.
697 reviews20 followers
April 17, 2022
My first time experiencing Joy Harjo’s work.. I chose to listen to the audiobook of this poetry collection. I was not disappointed! Joy read her own work and she has a beautiful voice filled with compassion, tenderness, and nuance. It was an amazing experience! Most Indigenous history is oral so I felt that listening to her would be the best way to comprehend and honor her work. I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Cheryl.
933 reviews93 followers
March 7, 2020
There aren’t that many books of poems that are like this: a journey, a witnessing, a testimony, a lyric, a song, a history, a lament, a condemnation, a love bigger than the world.

In Sunday school we were told Lot’s wife Looked back and turned To salt. But her family wasn’t leaving Paradise. We loved our trees and waters And the creatures and earths and skies In that beloved place. Those beings were our companions Even as they fed us, cared for us. If I turn to salt It will be of petrified tears From the footsteps of my relatives As they walked west.

I was taught to give honor to the house of the warriors
Which cannot exist without the house of the peacemakers.


Follow them, stop, turn around
Go the other way.
Left, right,
Mine, yours.
We become lost,
Take a deep breath,
You will not always be lost.
You are right here,
In your time, In your place.

1. North
Star guidance as we look up
To the brightest white
Hoping it leads you to where you want to go,
Hoping that it knows where you should be.
We find our peace here in the white,
Gather our strength, our breath, and learn how to be.

2. East
The sun rises,
Red, Morning heat on our face even on the coldest morning
The sun creates life,
Energy, Nourishment.
Gather strength, pull it in
Be right where you are.

3. South
Butterfly flits Spreads yellow beauty.
We have come to this moment in time Step by step,
We don’t always listen to directions,
We let the current carry us,
Push us,
Force us along the path. We stumble,
Get up and keep moving.

4. West
Sunsets, brings
Brings black.
We find solitude,
Time to take in breath and
Even in darkness
Call out even in a whisper
Or whimper,
You will be heard.

To find,
To be found,
To be understood,
To be seen,
Heard, felt.
Breath. You are, Memory. You are, Touch. You are, Right here.

At the edge of the mating dance. Beneath a sky thrown open To the need of stars To know themselves against the dark. All night we dance the weave of joy and tears All night we’re lit with the sunrise of forever Just ahead of us, through the trees One generation after the other.

RED—Each of us is a wave in the river of humanity. If we break we bleed out. If we move forward together we are bound together by scarlet waters of belief. One side is war. One side feeds the generations. We are bright with the need for life.

“Once I looked at the moon and caught sight of a strange thing. A cricket had perched upon the handrail, only a few inches away from me. My line of vision was such that the creature filled the moon like a fossil. It had gone there, I thought, to live and die, for there, of all places, was its small definition made whole and eternal. A warm wind rose up and purled like the longing within me.”—N. SCOTT MOMADAY, The Way to Rainy Mountain, 1969

I never got to wash my mother’s body when she died.
I return to take care of her in memory.
That’s how I make peace when things are left undone.
I go back and open the door.
As I wash my mother’s face,
I tell her how beautiful she is, how brave,
how her beauty and bravery live on in her grandchildren.
Her face is relaxed, peaceful.
Her earth memory body has not left yet,
The story is all there, in her body, as
I wash her to prepare her to be let down into earth,
and return all stories to the earth.
My body memories rise up as I wash.
I ask the keepers of the journey to make sure her travel is safe and sure.
I ask the angels, whom she loved and with whom she spoke frequently,
to take her home, but wait, not before I find her favorite perfume.
Then I sing her favorite song, softly.
I don’t know the name of the song, just a few phrases,
one of those old homemade heartbreak
where there’s a moment of happiness wound through-

And then I let her go.

There is a map, a series of maps that are t/here and have always been t/here. They are transparent and layered, one on top of another. One generation over another, the lines of connection are relentlessly weaving, patterning rhythmically, mythically, and historically by image, sound and sense.

Rivers are the old roads, as are songs, to traverse memory. I emerged from the story, dripping with the waters of memory.

This is the first morning we are without you on earth.
The sun greeted us after a week of rain
In your eastern green and mountain homelands.
Plants are fed, the river restored, and you have been woven
Into a path of embracing stars of all colors
Now free of the suffering that shapes us here.
We all learn to let go like learning how to walk
When we first arrive here.
All those you thought you lost now circle you
And you are free of pain and heartbreak
Don’t look back, keep going.
We will carry your memory here, until we join you
In just a little while
In one blink of star time.


Stand tall, no matter your height, how dark your skin Your spirit is all colors within You are made of the finest woven light From the iridescent love that formed your mothers, fathers.

For Emily Dickinson, one of the singers. And for all who those fleeing on those ancient migration trails north, for home.

Someone sang for me and no one else could hear it
Now I am here in the timeless room of lost poetry
Gathering up the destroyed and forgotten
Because of the songs someone sang that no one else could hear
But me.

Lift your attention
For the appearance of the next road
It might be through a family of trees, a desert, or
On rolling waves of sea It’s the ancient road the soul knows
We always remember it when we see it It beckons at birth
It carries us home

We will keep going despite dark Or a madman in a white house dream.

It was impossible to make it through the tragedy Without poetry. What are we without winds becoming words?

And, there breathes stars here— a cosmic hearteousness—the heart is the higher mind and nothing can be forgotten there, no ever or ever. How do I sing this so I don’t forget?

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves, We
Were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to

And some of us could Sing
When we drove to the edge of the mountains, with a drum. We
Made sense of our beautiful crazed lives under the starry stars. Sin
Was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We
Were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them: Thin Chance.

Forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We.

Bless this land from the top of its head to the bottom of its feet

Bless the eyes of this land, for they witness cruelty and kindness in this land
From sunrise light upright to falling down on your knees night.

Bless the ears of this land, for they hear cries of heartbreak and shouts of celebration in this land

Bless the arms and hands of this land, for they remake and restore beauty in this land.

We were held in the circle around these lands by song, and reminded by the knowers that not one is over the other, no human above the bird, no bird above the insect, no wind above the grass.

Bless the heart of this land on its knees planting food beneath the eternal circle of breathing, swimming and walking this land

The heart is a poetry maker. There is one heart, said the poetry maker, one body and all poems make one poem and we do not use words to make war on this land.

Bless the gut labyrinth of this land, for it is the center of unknowing in this land

Bless the femaleness and maleness of this land, for each holds the fluent power of becoming in this land

Bless the destruction of this land, for new shoots will rise up from fire, floods, earthquakes and fierce winds to make new this land.

Bless us, these lands, said the rememberer. These lands aren’t our lands. These lands aren’t your lands. We are this land.

And the blessing began a graceful moving through the grasses of time, from the beginning, to the circling around place of time, always moving
Profile Image for R.J. Sorrento.
Author 4 books37 followers
July 12, 2022
“Bless us, these lands, said the rememberer. These lands aren’t our lands. These lands aren’t your lands. We are this land.”

A masterpiece collection of poetry by Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States (at the time of publication).

Many of these poems should be required reading for history class in schools.

“The Old Ones will always tell you, your ancestors keep watch over you. Listen to them.”
Profile Image for dina.
245 reviews87 followers
January 10, 2021
"So many earth spirits take care of this place. They emerge from the cliff walls.
They emerge from the waves of waters.

Our ancestors are not only human ancestors.
What do you see when you fly to the top of the ancestor tree?

Let there be no regrets, no sadness, no anger, no acts of disturbance to these lands."
Profile Image for Grace W.
826 reviews8 followers
April 26, 2021
(c/p from my review on TheStoryGraph) A beautiful book of poems. Powerful, moving, breathtaking. So happy to have read this and will for sure pick it up many times.

TW for this book include: Genocide, Death, Hate crime, Violence, Racism, and Grief

Profile Image for Ann.
737 reviews
April 24, 2022
I borrowed this book from the library but I know it’s a book I will want to pick up again. These poems deserve to be read multiple times and savored.
Profile Image for Anna Baillie-Karas.
414 reviews47 followers
April 25, 2020
I loved this extraordinary book of poetry, broken up with short extracts from history and Joy Harjo’s reflections. I enjoyed the variety & innovation in structure & the way some of the poems were moving and poignant without being heavy. An important re-telling of history done with a light touch, with poems that are both rich and playful. A short book that will reward re-reading.
Profile Image for Shane Douglas Douglas.
Author 6 books63 followers
December 27, 2020
You think you can write poetry, then you read someone like indigenous American 3 time poet laureate Joy Harjo and realize you still have a LOT to learn. Harjo is a force to be reckoned with. Her voice is powerful and her words are imbued with magic that will change you. There's a damn good reason she's only the second person in our history to be named laureate 3 times (previously only Robert Pinsky had held that honor). This book will show you what that reason is.
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