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Joy Harjo is a multi-talented artist of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. She is an internationally known poet, performer, writer and musician. She has published seven books of acclaimed poetry. They include: She Had Some Horses, In Mad Love and War, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and her most recent, How We Became Human, New and Selected Poems from W.W. Norton. Her poetry awards include the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award, Oklahoma Book Awards, 200; The American Indian Festival of Words Author Award from the Tulsa City County Library: the 2000 Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award,: 1998 Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award: the 1997 New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas; the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. She co-edited an anthology of contemporary Native women’s writing: Reinventing the Enemy’s Language, Native Women’s Writing of North America. It was pronounced one of the London Observer’s Best Books of 1997. And she wrote the award-winning children’s book from Harcourt, The Good Luck Cat. She also contributed poetic prose to photographs by Stephen Strom in Secrets from the Center of the World. Forthcoming is a book of stories from W.W. Norton.

Harjo’s first music CD, Letter from the End of the 20th Century was released by Silver Wave Records in 1997. Harjo co-produced the album and is featured as poet and saxophone player. The album was honored by the First Americans in the Arts for Outstanding Musical Achievement and called by Pulse Magazine the ‘best dub poetry album recorded in North America.” Her recently released second CD or original songs, Native Joy for Real crosses over many genres and has been praised for its daring brilliance. Harjo has performed internationally, from the Arctic Circle in Norway at the Riddu Riddu Festival, to Madras, India, to the Ford Theater in Los Angeles. She has been featured on Bill Moyers, The Power of the Word series, and will be featured this spring on a new Garrison Keillor show. Harjo was also the narrator for the Turner The Native Americans series and the narrator for the Emmy award-winning show, Navajo Codetalkers for National Geographic.

Harjo’s other accomplishments include co-producer and talent of the music video “Eagle Song,” nominated for best music video at the American Indian Film Festival 2002. The American Indian Film Festival awarded her the Eagle Spirit Achievement Award that year. She has served on the National Council on the Arts. She is the Joseph Russo endowed professor at University of New Mexico, and when not teaching and performing she lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she is a member of the Hui Nalu Canoe Club.

Reprinted with permission from www.joyharjo.com
and mekkoproductions, inc.

A Map to the Next World
English version

A Map to the Next World

for Desiray Kierra Chee

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for those who
would climb through a hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged from the killing
fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It must carry fire
to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it was we
forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the altars of money.
They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals our children while
we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born there of nuclear

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak to them by their
personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the map. Our
forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us, leaving a trail of paper diapers,
needles and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood, your father’s small death
as he longs to know himself in another.

There is no exit.

The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine—a spiral on the
road of knowledge.

You will travel through the membrane of death, smell cooking from the
encampment where our relatives make a feast of fresh deer meat and corn soup,
in the milky way.

They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.

And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world there will be
no X, no guidebook with words you can carry.

You will have to navigate your mother’s voice, renew the song she is singing.

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

And lights the map printed with the blood of history, a map you will have to
know by your intention, by the language of suns.

When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers where they entered
the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.

You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.

A white deer will come to greet you when the last human climbs from
the destruction.

Remember the hole of our shame marking the act of abandoning our tribal grounds.

We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who was once a star
and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map.

Reprinted from A Map to the Next World.
(New York: WW. Norton, 2000.)
- English version.
Creation Story
English version

Creation Story

Joy Harjo, John L. Williams, Susan M. Williams

I’m not afraid of love
or its consequence of light.

It’s not easy to say this
or anything when my entrails
dangle between paradise
and fear.

I am ashamed
I never had the words
to carry a friend from her death
to the stars

Or the words to keep
my people safe
from drought
or gunshot.

The stars who were created by words
are circling over this house
formed of calcium, of blood—

this house
in danger of being torn apart by stones of fear.

If these words can do anything
I say bless this house
with stars.

Transfix us with love.

Reprinted from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994).

Audio version

Creation Story

Click on the title of the poem below to listen.

Creation Story - English version.

Audio track from “Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century,”
Silver Wave Records, 1997.

My House is the Red Earth
English version

My House is the Red Earth

Joy Harjo, John L. Williams

My house is the red earth. It could be the center of the world. I’ve heard New York, Tokyo or Paris called the center of the world but I say it is magnificently humble. You could drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words cannot construct it for there are some sounds left to sacred wordless form. For instance, the fool crow picking through trash at the corral, understands the center of the world as greasy scraps of fat. Just ask him. He doesn’t have to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief, after centuries of heartbreak and laughter.

If you look with the mind of the swirling earth near Shiprock, you become the land beautiful, and understand how three crows at the edge of the highway laughing, become three crows at the edge of the world laughing.

Don’t bother the earth spirit who lives here. She is working on a story. It is the oldest story in the world and it is delicate, changing. If she sees you watching, she’ll invite you in for coffee, give you warm bread and you will be obligated to stay and listen. But this is no ordinary story. You will have to endure earthquakes, lightning, the deaths of all those you love, the most blinding beauty. It’s a story so compelling you may never want to leave. This is how she traps you. See that stone finger over there? That is the only one who ever escaped.

Reprinted from Secrets From the Center of the World.
(University of Arizona Press, 1989).

Audio version

My House is the Red Earth

Click on the title of the poem below to listen.

My House is the Red Earth - English version.

Audio track from “Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century,”
Silver Wave Records, 1997.