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American Life in Poetry

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Kwame Dawes

2021 American Life in Poetry editor

Joy Harjo’s ode to family, to ancestry and to the woman’s body, truly makes sense if we understand that for Harjo, there is no line separating the natural world and her human body — that for her the evolutionary impulse is one of the imagination: “I was a thought, a dream, a fish a wing.” In “Granddaughters,” she celebrates the body and the dynamic force of nature.


By Joy Harjo

I was a thought, a dream, a fish, a wing

And then a human being

When I emerged from my mother's river

On my father's boat of potent fever

I carried a sack of dreams from a starlit dwelling

To be opened when I begin bleeding

There's a red dress, deerskin moccasins

The taste of berries made of promises

While the memories shift in their skins

At every moon, to do their ripening

Poem reprinted by permission. Weekly column made possible by The Poetry Foundation, Library of Congress and Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Unsolicited manuscripts not accepted.


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