FROM THE CHAPTER 16 ARCHIVE: This poem originally appeared on December 9, 2019
or What I Have Taken in My Hand to Speak
When I Have No Words
(inspired by T.C. Cannon’s images)
BLACK — Before there was anything else possible. We settled
there, not far from the river, at the ragged edge of night. There
were no words for eyes or light, or even being. Imagination took
its first breath, while we were camped there in the nowhere.
YELLOW — We struck up a conversation. Somebody opened their
hands with food. The drum brought forth the language of the
earth. An elder woman’s voice urged the stars out of their houses to
come dance with us. A young man followed with a new song that
brought excitement to the young women wrapped in shawls who
were dancing, and brought forth ancestors who danced with us.
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.
GREEN — After winter snow, after you have left, after giving up,
after the planting, after letting the horses free to roam, after the
loving, after yes, after no. The grasses rise up from the earth to
answer the winds in song. After I rise up with this shimmering
love to sing.
BLUE — If you really love me sweetheart you would not forsake
me here at the dawn of forever. I will always love you, always,
sang the sky to eternity. I will meet you there, at the seamless
edge of sunrise.
Reprinted from An American Sunrise: Poems. Copyright © 2019 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Joy Harjo, who formerly held the John C. Hodges Chair of Excellence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee Creek Nation. The author of eight books of poetry and a memoir, Crazy Brave, she was named United States Poet Laureate in 2019.