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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Number 205: Joy Harjo "She Had Some Horses"

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.

-- Joy Harjo

Hap Notes: This is probably one of Joy Harjo's (born 1951) most anthologized poems. You know, I saw her read her poetry somewhere and for the longest time I thought I had dreamed her up and this poem. I can't recall where I saw her but I remember what she was wearing and how she sounded and the podium and the lights. I remembered this poem. For several years I thought I had dreamed it up by myself. Harjo's work is often like that; it's familiar, yet dreamlike; a chanting, mythic and enchanting. (I also thought I had dreamed the David Lynch film "Eraserhead" after I saw it in a theater. I have odd dreams, obviously.)

There's a good reason to think this poem has a dreamlike, or at least, day-dreamy, quality. It's a litany of what a person is, what other people are, what the various threads are that make up the tapestry of our lives. When you think on who and what you are, lists like this can arise, although perhaps not as eloquently as Harjo's is here.

Her Native American roots are deeply planted in this poem. The poem begs to be read aloud, as most of her poems do, and they have that in common with Homer and the earliest poets and the great oral traditions of storytelling with Native American tribes. There's a rhythm in her work, like the lapping of water on the shore of some dream river. Her poetry is often an expression of compassion and joy.

Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her heritage is Muskogee Creek and I've always wondered if she was any relation to Chitto Harjo, a noted Muskogee representative who worked for the autonomous government of the tribe in the late 1800s. She went to the University of New Mexico and received her Masters degree from the University of Iowa's writers workshop program. She has taught at Arizona State, the University of Colorado, University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico. She's won many awards and has received National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. She also had a band she performed with called Poetic Justice and she plays the saxophone (she learned it at age 40) and still performs a blend of poetry and music in her readings.

Here's a good Joy Harjo quote: "I am driven to explore the depths of creation and the depths of meaning. Being native, female, a global citizen in these times is the root, even the palette. I mean, look at the context: human spirit versus the spirits of the earth, sky, and universe. We are part of a much larger force of sense and knowledge. Western society is human-centric. We're paying the price of foolish arrogance, of forgetfulness."

and another

“I agree with Gide that most of what is created is beyond us, is from that source of utter creation, the Creator, or God. We are technicians here on Earth, but also co-creators. I’m still amazed."

and one more:

"The artists: the poets, musicians, painters, dancers make art from truth. Art that forges new paths, new insight, inspiration comes from the raw stuff floating in the connections between humans, animals, plants, stars, all life. Poets are the talk-singers, we find our art in the space between the words. There is where the truth lies."

Every time I read this poem I think of Franz Marc's horse paintings; "The Blue Horses," "The Yellow Horses," "The Red Horses," so that's what is on the masthead today.

Here's Harjo reading the poem aloud:

Here's her website: /

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