8 Brilliant Poems by Joy Harjo You NEED To Read

cover image for the article poems by Joy Harjo

What connects you the most to a poem? The poet or the poem? For several readers, the answers might be different, but when any reader reads the poems by Joy Harjo it makes them feel connected not only to the poem but the poet herself. We start feeling what she has written on an intense level and that is why she is one of the most loved poets.

For those who do not know Joy Harjo, she was an American poet, musician, playwright, and author. She was the first Native American to serve as the United States Poet Laureate. Her work often includes themes such as social justice, arts, and defining self.

In this article, we are going to discuss some of the best poems written by Joy Harjo. Let’s start:

My House is the Red Earth

My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world. I’ve heard New York, Paris, or Tokyo called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble. You could drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words cannot construct it, for there are some sounds left to sacred wordless form. For instance, that fool crow, picking through trash near the corral, understands the center of the world as greasy strips of fat. Just ask him. He doesn’t have to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief, after centuries of heartbreak and laughter—he perches on the blue bowl of the sky, and laughs.

“My House is the Red World” is a poem that explains what is the center of the world for different people. Through this poem, Harjo has tried to express that what is important to one person may be completely unknown and unimportant to the other person. 

It is not others who decide what is important to us, we decide it. The poem is written in free verse without any stanza or spacing. The poem looks more like a paragraph rather than a poem. The poem reflects Harjo’s individualism and the freedom of form which indirectly suggests one’s freedom to choose their own “center of the World”.

She had some Horses

She had some horses.
She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with long, pointed breasts.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mothers' arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made them afraid of themselves.
She had horses who said they weren't afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, "horse."
She had horses who called themselves, "spirit." and kept their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any savior.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her bed at night and prayed as they raped her.

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

In the poem “She had Some Horses” the poet connects the poem with the motif of a horse, an animal that she spent time with while growing up.

The anthology’s titular poem is considered her best work. With each stanza the title repeating at the beginning of the line, Harjo makes clear that she does not refer to literal horses, rather she reflects on the complex human nature.

The horse represents the different phases of Harjo’s life, her past, present, and her possible future selves. Through the poem, Harjo has tried to romanticize the joys and sadness of her own Native life. The poet can claim her power and uniqueness while appreciating her weakness.


a woman can’t survive
by her own breath
she must know
the voices of mountains
she must recognize
the foreverness of blue sky
she must flow
with the elusive
of night winds
who will take her
into herself

look at me
i am not a separate woman
i am a continuance
of blue sky
i am the throat
of the mountains
a night wind
who burns
with every breath
she takes

In the poem “Fire” by Joy Harjo, she has tried to empower women. Harjo tells them that to survive one must raise their voice as high as the mountain. A woman must recognize herself.

Harjo suggests that a woman is never alone, all women are in the blue sky accompanied by one another. The poet depicts that it is through unity that women can empower each other. The poet then refers to herself and motivates all the other women in the world, to fight for their freedom and be what they want to be.

Ah, Ah

Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.
Lands on the crown of the palm tree.

Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.
We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.

Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.
We claim our seats. Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.

Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.
Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.

Ah, ah tattoos the engines of your plane against the sky—away from these
Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.

Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail. We fly by
on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.

Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul. Ah, ah.

“Ah, Ah” by Joy Harjo is a poem that connects nature, humans and inanimate objects through the sound “Ah, Ah”. The theme of disruption continues throughout the poem. First, there was a disruption by a cow, then a disruption by humans, and so on. 

In the end, humans, animals, and inanimate objects start to form images instead of causing disruption. Therefore, the poem becomes about unity and living together in a world full of life. Harjo suggests that to live peacefully one has to communicate otherwise the lack of silence results in disruption.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

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.

This 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 sorrow. 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.

“Perhaps the World Ends Here” is a poem that describes the importance of a kitchen table. The poet uses “table” as an extended metaphor for the phases of human life and the events occurring in it.

Harjo has tried to suggest unity, joy, sadness, and remorse. Moreover, she says that life starts and ends at the kitchen table. Therefore, the company around the kitchen table matters the most. One can relate to this poem as we all remember times of us having coffee at the table with people we love the most.

Rabbit Is Up to Tricks

In a world long before this one, there was enough for everyone,
Until somebody got out of line.
We heard it was Rabbit, fooling around with clay and wind.
Everybody was tired of his tricks and no one would play with him;
He was lonely in this world.
So Rabbit thought to make a person.
And when he blew into the mouth of the crude figure to see
What would happen,
The clay man stood up.
Rabbit showed the clay man how to steal a chicken.
The clay man obeyed.
Rabbit showed him how to steal corn.
The clay man obeyed.
Then he showed him how to steal someone else’s wife.
The clay man obeyed.
Rabbit felt important and powerful.
Clay man felt important and powerful.
And once that clay man started he could not stop.
Once he took that chicken he wanted all the chickens.
And once he took that corn he wanted all the corn.
And once he took that wife, he wanted all the wives.
He was insatiable.
Then he had a taste of gold and he wanted all the gold.
Then it was land and anything else he saw.
His wanting only made him want more.
Soon it was countries, then it was trade.
The wanting infected the earth.
We lost track of the purpose and reason for life.
We began to forget our songs. We forgot our stories.
We could no longer see or hear our ancestors,
Or talk with each other across the kitchen table.
Forests were being mowed down all over the world.
And Rabbit had no place to play.
Rabbit’s trick had backfired.
Rabbit tried to call the clay man back. 
But when the clay man wouldn’t listen,
Rabbit realized he’d made a clay man with no ears.

This poem says a lot about the world that we live in today. The current status of the downfall of nature, the failure of our attempts to stop climate change, and the impending doom that is upon us. So who is the “Rabbit” here? 

The “Rabbit” in this poem can be equated with God  or Nature. Before Nature (or God) had created man, everything was in balance. The animals lived, ate, and nurtured nature. That is until man was created. 

Nature instilled all these behaviors of thieving, stealing, lust, etc. in man, but she did not know how unstoppable this “man” can be. The insatiable desire to keep acquiring grew so rapidly, it destroyed the very place the Rabbit lived (which is man destroying nature). 

Once the World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn't know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

“Once the World Was Perfect” by Joy Harjo is a poem that explores the world which was once perfect but is now full of envy, greed, and hatred which has destroyed the world. But in the end, there was a spark of light which filled the world with kindness, and the balance was regained.

Through this poem, Harjo has suggested that only if we live in unity we can live in the light, otherwise the world is going to be full of darkness. To heal the world, one has to be kind.

The restored world of balance continues down to generations until it reaches us. Hence, we are lucky enough to be a part of this balanced world and we should always appreciate that. 

This Morning I Pray for My Enemies

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

“The Morning I pray for My Enemies” is a very positive poem written by Harjo. In the poem, the poet talks about the morning of a wise heart, a heart that is not just able to see injustice but also loves.

A heart that can feel both anger and blessings. The poem asks us to pay attention to what matters the most to us. In the end, the poet tells us that enemies who are allowed to come close could become a friend which would be dangerous.

The poem can be read on a personal and universal level. The poem teaches us all how to deal with an enemy who tries to become a friend.

And those were some of the best poems by Joy Harjo that not only makes us think a little bit about the message she gives, but also creates a lasting impact on our minds. Which ones are your favorite in this lot?

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