Joy Harjo

April 14, 2022

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo [photo: Shawn Miller, Creative Commons]

Joy Harjo, poet, activist, educator, 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, Mvskoke [Creek] Nation

The world begins at a kitchen table.  No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.  So it has

Been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it.  Babies teethe at the corners. They

Scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be

Human.  We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our

Children.  They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put

Ourselves back together once again at the table.

The table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table.  It is a place to hide in the shadow

Of terror.  A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents

For burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorry.  We pray of suffering and

Remorse.  We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and

Crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

—Joy Harjo, 1951


From the National Museum of the American Indian:

Read more from Youth in Action: Indigenous Youth Poet Warriors on Demand

How does poetry inspire change? In celebration of National Poetry Month and the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo (Mvskoke [Creek] Nation), Indigenous youth poets jaye simpson (Sapotaweyak Cree Nation), Kinsale Drake (Diné), and Sareya Taylor (White Mountain Apache/Diné) share how this “poet and champion of justice” has inspired their own writings, and how they use written and spoken words to express their worldviews and advocate for personal and community needs. Moderated by Kelly Caballero (Tongva). This program is part of the “Youth in Action: Conversations about Our Future” series, which features young Native activists and changemakers from across the Western Hemisphere who are working towards equity and social justice for Indigenous peoples.

Nancy Bo Flood

As a fish-brain surgeon or a rodeo poem wrangler, I have loved stories. I strongly believe that words – in poetry or prose – help heal our hearts and give us new eyes to see the world. I was first a research psychologist studying brain development at the University of Minnesota and London University before following my passion – writing for children. Learn more...