Joy Harjo – “Desire” … the hum of spiders: an anthology of works & words

joy harjo-picthe hum of spiders:
an anthology
of works & words

Joy Harjo

Say I chew desire and water is an explosion
of sugar wings in my mouth.

Say it tastes of you.

Say I could drown because you left
for the time it takes a blackbird to understand
a pine tree.

Say we enter the pine woods at dawn.

We never slept and the only opium we smoked
was what became of our mingled breath.

Say the stars have never learned
to say goodbye. (One is a jewel
of blue magic in your perfect ear.)

Say all of this is true and more

than there are blackbirds
in a heaven of blackbirds.


Joy Harjo is a poet of primal elements – earth, wind, fire, and water. If the planet is capable of language, and I believe it is, it must speak the poetry of Harjo. Many of her works – “She Had Some Horses,” “A Postcolonial Tale,” Secrets from the Center of the World – focus on responsibility, on being human, on survival in a world of hate and love. She always engages the reader, at times in conversation, with an urge to change. That’s her gift.

Reading Harjo, I learn a great deal about myself. “Desire” speaks to physical being in a direct manner: say, say, say. The technical use of the word is in drawing attention to imagery and specific actions in the poem and the possibility of certain moments, but a deeper use of say challenges the reader to speak. The ultimate goal is a personal truth: “Say all of this is true and more.” More gives way to the final stanza that functions as an opening, another layer, other possibilities – “blackbirds / in a heaven of blackbirds.” The poem begins and ends with the notion of flight.

Verb choice and action words are essential to the poem: the actual – chew, tastes, drown, enter; the negative or limited – never slept, the only opium smoked, never learned, say goodbye. “Say,” throughout the poem, functions as an action, but there is also the meaning of “say” as an “if,” presenting an alternative or a situation contrary to fact. Both functions apply to Harjo’s poem.

The poem has an erotic and physical charge that is appealing – “an explosion / of sugar wings in my mouth”. She presents a strong presence of relationship – “chew desire” and “it tastes of you.” The you of the poem directly refers to a beloved, but there is also the presence of you as reader, and that is part of the poem’s magic for me. The second half of the poem begins with a vivid image that is both real and sense directed: “Say we enter the pine woods at dawn.” You and I give way to we, which certainly must be linked to the “heaven of blackbirds”.

Because of the form and Harjo’s approach to the writing, I’m forced to experience the poem in my own reality – as though someone were speaking directly to me – giving the words on the words on the page a larger purpose.


~ by samofthetenthousandthings on December 29, 2015.

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