'The memories shift in their skins at every moon, to do their ripening'

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Joy Harjo’s ode to family, to ancestry, and to the woman’s body, truly makes sense if we understand that for Harjo, there is no line separating the natural world and her human body — that for her the evolutionary impulse is one of the imagination: “I was a thought, a dream, a fish a wing”. In 'Granddaughters' she celebrates the body and the dynamic force of nature.



by Joy Harjo


I was a thought, a dream, a fish, a wing

And then a human being

When I emerged from my mother's river

On my father's boat of potent fever

I carried a sack of dreams from a starlit dwelling

To be opened when I begin bleeding

There's a red dress, deerskin moccasins

The taste of berries made of promises

While the memories shift in their skins

At every moon, to do their ripening


American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2019 by Joy Harjo, 'Granddaughters' from An American Sunrise (WW Norton & Company, 2019.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska

◄ Possibly a Pomegranate: Alwyn Marriage, Palewell Press

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