Bird

Joy Harjo

The moon plays horn, leaning on the shoulder of the dark universeto the infinite glitter of chance. Tonight I watched Bird kill himself,larger than real life. I've always had a theory that some of usare born with nerve endings longer than our bodies. Out to here,farther than his convoluted scales could reach. Those nights heplayed did he climb the stairway of forgetfulness, with his horn,a woman who is always beautiful to strangers? All poetsunderstand the final uselessness of words. We are chords toother chords to other chords, if we're lucky, to melody. The moonis brighter than anything I can see when I come out of the theater,than music, than memory of music, or any mere poem. At leastI can dance to "Ornithology" or sweet-talk beside "Charlie's Blues,"but inside this poem I can't play a horn, hijack a plane tosomewhere where music is the place those nerve endings dangle.Each rhapsody embodies counterpoint, and pain stuns the womanin high heels, the man behind the horn, sings the heart.To survive is sometimes a leap into madness. The fingers ofsaints are still hot from miracles, but can they save themselves?Where is the dimension a god lives who will take Bird home?I want to see it, I said to the Catalinas, to the Rincons,to anyone listening in the dark. I said, Let me hear youby any means: by horn, by fever, by night, even by some poemattempting flight home.

Feature Date

Series

Selected By

Share This Poem

Print This Poem

Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned poet, performer, and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and served three terms as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States. Harjo is the author of ten books of poetry, most recently, Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light, several plays, children’s books, prose collections, and two memoirs; she has also produced seven award-winning music albums and edited three anthologies of writing by authors of Native Nations. Her many honors include the Ruth Lily Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, two NEA fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Tulsa Artist Fellowship. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is the inaugural Artist-in-Residence for the Bob Dylan Center.

"Joy's poetry voice is indeed ancient. She has always been a visionary. A healer. A guide .... The poems in this collection are a song cycle, a woman warrior's journey in this era, reaching backward and forward and waking in the present moment. A chant for survival."
— Sandra Cisneros

"Joy Harjo's work is both very old and very new. She tells stories in verse, sometimes highly compressed, sometimes long and winding, which ritually invoke and link her to roots and sources. She seeks continuity between what she calls her 'past and future ancestors,' and views each poem as a ceremonial object with the potential to make change. She has found a singing language for grief and meaningfully transforms the American story. Her work is a long-lasting contribution to our literature."
— Edward Hirsch

"Harjo, though very much a poet of America, extracts from her own personal and cultural touchstones a more galactal understanding of the world, and her poems become richer for it. Here, she says, is a living, breathing earth to which we're all connected. Here is unbridled potential for the poetic-in everything, even in ourselves."
— Maya Phillips, The New Yorker

Poetry Daily Depends on You

With your support, we make reading the best contemporary poetry a treasured daily experience. Consider a contribution today.