Joy Harjo is this year’s recipient of poetry’s grandest prize, the Wallace Stevens Award from The Academy of American Poets, presented in recognition of her “proven mastery.” The following poems are from her new collection, released this week. Read an excerpt from Joy’s acclaimed memoir Crazy Brave here.
From Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems
© Joy Harjo 2015
No Yes, that was me you saw shaking with bravery, with a government-issued rifle on my back. I’m sorry I could not greet you, as you deserved, my relative. They were not my tears. I have a reservoir inside. They will be cried by my sons, my daughters if I can’t learn how to turn tears to stone. Yes, that was me, standing in the back door of the house in the alley, with fresh corn and bread for the neighbors. I did not foresee the flood of blood. How they would forget our friendship, would return to kill the babies and me. Yes, that was me whirling on the dance floor. We made such a racket with all that joy. I loved the whole world in that silly music. I did not realize the terrible dance in the staccato of bullets. Yes. I smelled the burning grease of corpses. And like a fool I expected our words might rise up and jam the artillery in the hands of dictators. We had to keep going. We sang our grief to clean the air of turbulent spirits. Yes, I did see the terrible black clouds as I cooked dinner. And the messages of the dying spelled there in the ashy sunset. Every one addressed: “mother.” There was nothing about it in the news. Everything was the same. Unemployment was up. Another queen crowned with flowers. Then there were the sports scores. Yes, the distance was great between your country and mine. Yet our children played in the path between our houses. No. We had no quarrel with each other.
Midnight Is a Horn Player Midnight is a horn player warmed up tight for the last set. One a.m. is a drummer who knows how to lay it sweet. Two a.m. is a guitar player who is down on his luck. Three a.m. is a bass player walking the floor crazy for you. Four a.m. is a singer in silk who will do anything for love. Five a.m. is kept for the birds. Six a.m. is the cleaning crew smoking cigarettes while they wait for the door to open. Seven a.m. we’re having breakfast together at the diner that never closes. Eight a.m. and we shut it down, though the clock keeps running, all through the town.
Sunrise Sunrise, as you enter the houses of everyone here, find us. We’ve been crashing for days, or has it been years. Find us, beneath the shadow of this yearning mountain, crying here. We have been sick with sour longings, and the jangling of fears. Our spirits rise up in the dark, because they hear, Doves in cottonwoods calling forth the sun. We struggled with a monster and lost. Our bodies were tossed in the pile of kill. We rotted there. We were ashamed and we told ourselves for a thousand years, We didn’t deserve anything but this—— And one day, in relentless eternity, our spirits discerned movement of prayers Carried toward the sun. And this morning we are able to stand with all the rest And welcome you here. We move with the lightness of being, and we will go Where there’s a place for us.
Equinox I must keep from breaking into the story by force, If I do I will find a war club in my hand And the smoke of grief staggering toward the sun, Your nation dead beside you. I keep walking away though it has been an eternity And from each drop of blood Spring up sons and daughters, trees A mountain of sorrows, of songs. I tell you this from the dusk of a small city in the north Not far from the birthplace of cars and industry. Geese are returning to mate and crocuses have Broken through the frozen earth. Soon they will come for me and I will make my stand Before the jury of destiny. Yes, I will answer in the clatter Of the new world, I have broken my addiction to war And desire.