In Praise of Earth by Joy Harjo

photo of Joy Harjo's How We Became Human with a red buttress, blue sky, and cottonwoods in the background

We kept on dancing last summer though the dancing had been called subversive.
We weren’t alone at the end of this particular world and knew
it wouldn’t be the last world, though wars
had broken out on all sides.

We kept on dancing and with us were the insects who had gathered at the grounds
in the grasses and the trees. And with us were the stars and
a few lone planets who had been friends
with the earth for generations.

With us were the spirits who wished to honor this beloved earth in any beautiful
manner. And with us at dawn was the Sun who took the lead
and then we broke for camp, for stickball
and breakfast.

We all needed praise made of the heart’s tattoo as it inspired our feet or wings,
someone to admire us despite our tendency to war, to terrible
stumbles. So does the red cliff who is the heart
broken to the sky.

So do the stones who were the first to speak when we arrived. So does the flaming
mountain who harbors the guardian spirits who refuse to abandon
us. And this Earth keeps faithfully to her journey, carrying us
around the Sun,

All of us in our rags and riches, our rages and promises, small talk and suffering.
As we go to the store to buy our food and forget to plant, sing so
that we will be nourished in turn. As we walk out
into the dawn,

With our lists of desires that her gifts will fulfill, as she turns our tears
into rivers of sweet water, we spiral between dusking and
dawn, wake up and sleep in this lush palace of creation,
rooted by blood, dreams, and history.

We are linked by leaf, fin, and root. When we climb through the sky to each
new day our thoughts are clouds shifting weather within us.
When we step out of our minds into ceremonial
language we are humbled and amazed,

at the sacrifice. Those who forget become the people of stone who guard
the entrance to remembering. And the Earth keeps up her
dancing and she is neither perfect nor exactly in time.
She is one of us.

And she loves the dance for what it is. So does the Sun who calls the Earth
beloved. And praises her with light.


Each morning of my Live Your Dream Grant-supported trip to climb at “Indian Creek” (part of Bears Ears National Monument, established by the historic joint efforts of Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, & Uintah Ouray Ute Tribes to protect the culturally significant landscape), I read one randomly selected poem from How We Became Human by Joy Harjo, US Poet Laureate since 2019.

Harjo is a mem­ber of the Mvskoke (also spelled Muscogee) Nation, whose current lands are in Oklahoma but historically spanned the Southeastern United States. While Harjo is not indigenous to the Bears Ears region, she has spent significant time in this landscape, and this appears in many of her poems.

Somehow the poem that showed up each day felt right for the day, or resonated with something I was feeling, or with something that had happened. The description of “the red cliff who is the heart / broken to the sky” inspired me to read it to the group stretch crew that morning at Creek Pasture Campground (the campsite I picked turned out to be the usual meeting spot for morning stretch– what luck, since I love stretch circles). It also happened to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

I love the line about “clouds shifting weather within us.” My time out there shifted some of the weather within me, nourished me, made me feel more able to continue wading through heaviness.