poem for poet: Joy Harjo

The First Time I Saw Joy Harjo /Chicago 2017

long, midnight, blue-black hair,
unmistakably hers,
melding into her pitch black jacket
an uninterrupted flowing velvet river
she, a radiant silhouette, like the haloed total solar eclipse that would occur later that year

her regal face is unseen, sustaining the mystery

then she rises like a sun to speak and i am in orbit

her first words: “i feel The Lake so very present in me.” / her voice weighted by the very earth in her throat

my glisteny eyes meet her glisteny eyes,
i memorize her face / and her hands tattooed in black ink/ she is dignity embodied/

she inscribes a protocol for me
in my book of hers, made of trees, and i think why am i, who am i, here

I give her a necklace
suspending glass vials of seed
watermelon, corn, clover and milkweed made by my hands on these forced-treaty lands

my symbolic reciprocity / for her poems that seeded me, collaterally

her poems are a well that
still water my thoughts and words

although i am not sure i am deserving of the drink/

god, i never want to be just another culture thief

from How We Became Human
New & Selected Poems 1975-2001
Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo was not only the first poet that I really, truly read, but hers were the first books of poetry that I actively sought and bought and treasure. I am careful about who and what I read.

Her words hold my sustained attention – challenging my intellect, flooding my spirit, and correcting the mis/dis-education I received about land, water, people, plants, animals, Earth, history and culture.

In Spring 2017, on a serendipitous and fated moment’s notice – I hopped in my first-ever rideshare — a Lyft ride to the Latin School in Chicago to hear her speak and to see her beautiful blue-black hair in four dimensions.

“No matter what happened or happens, I believed and continue to believe in the power of poetry. It came and found me.

I had plans to be an artist, a painter. But, it very deliberately chose me. I was the most unlikely candidate! I am a poor listener and was never good at speaking.

I am in service to the spirit of poetry. (The roots of poetry are the same roots as song, and dance.) …

I’ve learned that poetry could
heal the broken heart of a woman who found herself in battle with the man she loved beyond love itself.

It can assist in healing humans, creatures, plants, and countries.

It speaks unspeakable truths.

Poetry is almost always present at those major transitions in our lives: birth, marriage, death, and…love. It assists in healing my tribal nation. It’s poetry being sung at the ceremonial grounds or in the Creek churches and because of it we feel ourselves moving together into a greater understanding despite the struggles, the battles.

It is one of the toughest teachers. It teaches us how to listen, to even the most difficult truths.

And, by the way, don’t worry about what a poem means. Do you ask what a song means before you listen? Just listen. Meaning lives there in a field of powerful understanding, before it ever makes its way to words or explanations.”

Joy Harjo

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