Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

"For Calling the Spirit Back From Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet"

A Poet a Day: Joy Harjo

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.”
Enjoy.
— Bill Moyers

UPDATE: May 4, 2020, “Joy Harjo Is Named U.S. Poet Laureate for a Second Term, The first Native American to hold the position, Harjo will be developing an interactive map of contemporary Native poets.” The New York Times.

Today, we have something special, a poetry reading from U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo who is hunkered down in her home in Tulsa, OK. She has recorded herself reading a poem she wrote in 2015 entitled, “For Calling the Spirit Back From Wandering the Earth on Its Human Feet,” that she hopes will help others during this time of isolation. She says,”It’s a time to remember who we are and the best poems do that.”

“For Calling the Spirit Back
From Wandering the Earth
in Its Human Feet”

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that
bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel
the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and
back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were
a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the
guardians who have known you before time,
who will be there after time.
They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people
who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought
down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises,
interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and
those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few
years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and
leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the
thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning
by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call yourself back. You will find yourself caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.
Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It will return
in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be
happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and
given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who
loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no
place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

© Joy Harjo. Conflict Resolution From Holy Beings. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.
Photo credit for still: Matika Wilbur

 

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