Monday, September 24, 2012

Mapping Sunlight Through the Trees

The sun is going down and I've just removed the laundry from the line. With the scent of autumn in the bed sheets I watch the last of the light filter through the trees. In the background I hear the hum of the refrigerator and think of how it must have felt to be a Native American, to always watch the world in quiet. No wonder they wanted so badly to keep this land exactly as it had always been. They surely knew that someday we'd be right here, right where we are ...

"A Map to the Next World"

for Desiray Kierra Chee

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land,
how it was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, 
as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the
altars of money. They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals
our children while we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born
there of nuclear anger.

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map
appears to disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak
to them by their personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the
map. Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us,
leaving a trail of paper diapers, needles, and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood, your
father’s small death as he longs to know himself in another.

There is no exit.

The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine—
a spiral on the road of knowledge.

You will travel through the membrane of death, smell cooking
from the encampment where our relatives make a feast of fresh
deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.

They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.

And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world
there will be no X, no guidebook with words you can carry.

You will have to navigate by your mother’s voice, renew the
song she is singing.

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

And lights the map printed with the blood of history, a map you
will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.

When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers where
they entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.

You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.

A white deer will greet you when the last human climbs
from the destruction.

Remember the hole of shame marking the act of abandoning
our tribal grounds.

We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who 
was once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map.

~ Joy Harjo

The photograph is mine.


  1. Hello Teresa:
    Yes, each one of us must, finally, draw his or her own map. What is to be hoped is that it is done with sensitivity and understanding of others and the world which we all inhabit.

    1. The best maps are always made with those considerations - the only maps we should follow.

  2. Sound pollution is one of the most cruel types for it cannot be cleaned up.

    1. We become inured to it, until these small moments help us remember....

  3. Wow, that's beautiful Teresa, I love their way with words, the Native Americans. So powerful and splendid.
    Thank you for a lovely post.
    Grethe ´)

  4. Very nice thoughts, I love to listen well and find the earth songs fasinating.My friend Jay has been greeting his world outside my window today.

    1. Blue jays are so beautiful, I cannot imagine why they are sometimes so maligned. They are doing what they know to do, the best they can, as we all do.

  5. Oh, Terersa, I have read and reread this poem since I first saw your post last night, and am grateful that you posted it just when I seemed to need to read it. This reminds me a bit of Chief Seattle's speech. I have a beautiful children's book of it, illustrated by Susan Jeffers.

    1. Penny, You will not be at all surprised to know that I gave that same book, with those beautiful Susan Jeffers illustrations, to my son, Coleman, as a gift when he was a boy. It's good to remind them early who we really are.

    2. Oh, Teresa, I might have known you would know of this precious book. What a wonderful gift to have given Coleman. I have a copy here and donated a copy to the girls' elementary school, though I have my doubts that it was ever read. I am always amazed at how few people know of Chief Seattle, but, that is a story for another time.

  6. YES!

    A story just related to me which I believe was that my friend was traveling at night with this young city lady. When they stopped for a bit out in the middle of nowhere this girl viewed the cosmos for the first time in her life. For a period when driving resumed she curled up in a ball on the floor.

    My fridge makes noises like you hear in C grade insect horror movies. It's true.

    1. Quite an astonishing moment for her and she needed to assimilate it. Perhaps curling up in a ball on the floor was a symbol of preparing to be "born" into a new way of looking at the world. How wonderful for them both.

      My fridge is a smaller one and not exactly brand new and so not as efficient as I wish, thus a little noisier than I'd like. Insect horror movie? :) I think I had one of those once, too. Darn near kept me awake at night.

  7. You made chills run up my spine with this one. Thanks for allowing me to slow down and read these wonderful words.

    1. Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back... sung, of course. Chills are good. I'm glad. Did me, too. Still does.

      Ain't we got fun?

  8. Dear Teresa, thank you for sharing this poet's wisdom with us. The words must have come from that deep, down center where Oneness dwells. From there and from heartwishes and a longing for that which will unite us finally and completely, one with the other. Oh, that poet's thoughts are long, long thoughts and their poignancy and urgency still me now. Peace.

    1. Dee, She is a great poet. I so admire her vision, her ability See what so many cannot. For me, her poems are always read with a pleasure mixed with pain for the human condition.

  9. Hey, I have noticed how many musicians and poet we share a liking for.
    Is it our age, or are we spirit twins??

    1. Perhaps a bit of both.:) I'm glad for the connection, though. It's fun to share these things.

  10. Oh, my. This is so powerful. It just keeps piling on the strong images, gritty messages, conflicting emotions. I've read it several times and each time a different line stands out. I must read more of Joy Harjo.

    1. Nancy, I could make a list and I bet ours would be similar, if not the same. Yes, a different line with every read. I love how her poetry is layered this way, and so powerful. I posted another recently. "The Kitchen Table." It also had great depth to it.

  11. It is all so very sad, so inevitable, so immutable now. We have done what we did and we continue to in the same vein.

    This poem is a lament for a lost world.

    1. It does seem we are continuing in the same vein. I am trying to find and encourage hope in my own life and those around me as much as possible. It seems to be all we have and it can make a difference. Creating our own maps in our own lives is a start.... That's what I like to believe.

      Perhaps when it is all said and done, what will be lost is the world we thought we knew.

  12. Joy Harjo is a new artist for me. Powerful poem. -- barbara

    1. Joy Harjo was highlighted in my post "At the Kitchen Table." She is so good, isn't she?

  13. "A white deer will greet you when the last human climbs from the destruction."
    I don't care who that "deer" is. I will be reaching out for it... and read it's eyes... and use my mother's voice for direction.
    Beautiful and sad this poem is.
    My refrigerator makes noise too. I hear it drop ice sometimes and it sounds like it's tired.

    1. Oh, Connie, what a lovely thought. It's poignant yet powerful, isn't it? I thought you'd like it.

      Our fridges must get tired. We ask so much of them.