A Map to the Next World

A Map to the Next World

by Joy Harjo, Harjo

In her fifth book, Joy Harjo, one of our foremost Native American voices, melds memories, dream visions, myths, and stories from America's brutal history into a poetic whole.

This breathtakingly honest collection of writings is alive with deeply felt and beautifully expressed emotions. (Wilma Mankiller)

I turn and return to Harjo's poetry for her

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In her fifth book, Joy Harjo, one of our foremost Native American voices, melds memories, dream visions, myths, and stories from America's brutal history into a poetic whole.

This breathtakingly honest collection of writings is alive with deeply felt and beautifully expressed emotions. (Wilma Mankiller)

I turn and return to Harjo's poetry for her breathtaking, complex witness and for her world-remaking language: precise, unsentimental, miraculous. (Adrienne Rich)

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Weaving together myth, generations-old stories and other souces of cultural memory, Harjo (The Woman Who Fell from the Sky; In Mad Love and War; etc.) explores the complexities of identity in a people still haunted by its violently disrupted past. (Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke or Creek Nation.) A facing-page dialogue between poetry and prose, the absorbing long poem "Returning from the Enemy," attempts to reconcile memories of the poet's absent father with memories of her own children, of ancestors and of "each trigger of grass": "We want to know if it's possible to separate and come back together, as the river licking the dock merges with the sea a few blocks away.// Long-legged birds negotiate the shore for food.// I am not as graceful as these souls." At its best, Harjo's map reveals regenerative human cycles that occur even in the midst of the most oppressive histories, with irreconcilably different worlds illuminating each other: a violent mugging becomes an encounter with the Navajo twin monsters; a fake snake set up to scare neighborhood birds becomes a fable of wisdom and perseverance. The more straightforward political critiques can be blandly accusatory: "Why have I come here/ I asked the dark, whose voice is the roar of history as it travels/ with the thoughts of humans who have made the monster." But Harjo's exploration of her layered selves reveals an identity of multiple influences, memories, obstacles and experiences. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.39(w) x 9.59(h) x 0.69(d)

Read an Excerpt


    Songline of Dawn

    * * *

We are ascending through the dawn
the sky blushed with the fever
                               of attraction.
I don't want to leave my daughter,
                                   or the babies.
I can see their house, a refuge in the dark near the university.
Protect them, oh gods of the scarlet light
who love us fiercely despite our acts of stupidity
our utter failings.
May this morning light be food for their bones,
for their spirits dressed
                          in manes of beautiful black hair
in skins the color of the earth as it meets the sky.
Higher we fly over the valley of monster bones
left scattered in the dirt to remind us that breathing
is rooted somewhere other than the lungs.
                                        My spirit approaches with reverence
because it harbors the story, of how these beloveds appearedtofail
then climbed into the sky to stars of indigo.
                                And we keep going past the laughter and tears
of the babies who will grow up to become a light field
just beyond us.
And then the sun breaks over the yawning mountain.
And the plane shivers as we dip toward
                                       an old volcanic field.
It is still smoldering
motivated by the love of one deity for another.
It's an old story and we're in it so deep we have become them.
The sun leans on one elbow after making love,
                                   savoring the wetlands just off the freeway.
We are closer to the gods than we ever thought possible.

    the psychology of earth and sky

    * * *

It is just before dawn. The mango tree responds to the wind's fierce jostling. A rooster stridently marks the emerging light. We are alerted and our spirits trek back through night and the stars to awaken here in this place known by Honolulu. Clouds harboring rain travel fast over the city and now a trash truck beeps as it backs up for collection. And dawn arrives, no matter the struggle of the night and how endless that night might be.

We are part of an old story and involved in it are migrations of winds, of ocean currents, of seeds, songs and generations of nations.

In this life it seems like I am always leaving, flying over this earth that harbors many lives. I was born Indian, female and artist in the Creek Nation. It is still grey out as I follow the outline of memory. Over there is my teenage self getting out of a car, still a little drunk, waving good-bye to friends. We've been up all night, singing into the dark, joining the stars out on the mesa west of the Indian town, Albuquerque.

"When the dance is over sweetheart I will take you home in my one-eyed Ford. Wey-yo-hey-ya Hey-yah-hah. Hey-yah-hah."

That song was destined to become a classic.

The shutting of the car door echoes and echoes and leads to here. I always hear that door when I return to that memory. It's a holographic echo, turning over and over into itself. I am leaving. I am returning.

I turned to walk to my apartment in the back. All of us lived in the back of somewhere in that city where we were defining what it meant to be Indian in a system of massive colonization. It was a standing joke. A backdoor joke. The world was suddenly condensed by the shutting of the door, the sweet purr of the engine as the car drove off and the perfect near silence of the pause in the morning scramble of sparrows, the oohhing of doves. I can still breathe it, that awareness of being alive part of the ceremony for the rising of the sun. I often lived for this moment of reconciliation, where night and morning met. It didn't matter that I didn't quite know how I was going to piece together what I needed for tuition, rent, groceries, books and childcare, how I was going to make sense of a past that threatened to destroy me during those times when I doubted that I deserved a place in the world. The songs we sang all night together filled me with promise, hope, the belief in a community that understood that the world was more than a contract between buyer and seller.

And that morning just as the dawn was arriving and I was coming home I knew that the sun needed us, needed my own little song made of the whirr push of the blood through my lungs and heart. Inside that bloodstream was born my son, my daughter. I was born of parents who would greet the dawn often in their courtship with their amazing passion driven by love, and later heartbreak.

Dawn was also the time my father often came home after he and my mother were married, had four children, dropped off by his friends, reeking of smoke, beer and strange perfume. And I am his daughter. How much do we have to say in the path our feet will take? Is it ordained by the curve of a strand of DNA? Mixed with the urge to love, to take flight? My family survived, even continues to thrive, which works against the myth of Indian defeat and disappearance.

My daughter's house is near the First National Bank building in Albuquerque, a landmark from the sky as I climb toward the dawn in a jet. She is still asleep, the youngest curled in her arms. Her oldest is sleeping with her mouth open next to the three other beauties who also call my daughter mother. Anytime I left as she was growing up she missed me terribly. Even now as I fly away from her yet once more I feel the tug of her heart as it still questions the time of my next return, as if I left her at some point in the deepest roots of her memory and never came back. I want to tell her I will never leave her, and I send this poem to her and the girls as a guardian spirit.


    * * *

In the dark I travel by instinct,
through the rubble of nightmares,
groaning of monsters toward the crack of light
along your body's horizon.
I roll over to my side, take you in my nostrils
test you for shape, intention and food
as nations fall apart.
Small winds tattoo my cheek.
Soon they will bring mist,
a small rain to clean the world
send rainbows to dress us,
for the ceremony
to rid us of the enemy mind.

    when we were born we remembered everything

    * * *

We are living in a system in which human worth is determined by money, material wealth, color of skin, religion and other capricious factors that do not tell the true value of a soul. This is an insane system. Those who profit from this system have also determined, by rationale and plundering, that the earth also has no soul, neither do the creatures, plants or other life forms matter. I call this system the overculture. There is no culture rooted here from the heart, or the need to sing. It is a system of buying and selling. Power is based on ownership of land, the work force, on the devaluation of life. The power centers are the multinational corporations who exploit many to profit a few. True power does not amass through the pain and suffering of others.

Phillip Deere, a spiritual leader from the Mvskoke, predicted the many twists and turns this path through the colonized world could take. He and others like him warned that this season will eventually pass, but not without great pain and suffering for everyone.

It's difficult to walk through the illusion without being awed and distracted by it. Power is seductive and sparkles. False gold also glitters. We think we know the difference, but it's easy to be seduced when all appearances tell you there is everything to be gained by winning.

At birth we know everything, can see into the shimmer of complexity. When a newborn looks at you it is with utter comprehension. We know where we are coming from, where we have been. And then we forget it all. That's why infants sleep so much after birth. It is an adjustment. The details of a new awareness have to be fine-tuned. But memory is elastic and nothing is ever forgotten. It's submerged below the bloodstream, in the river of memory informing us of direction, like a gyroscope in the heart of a ship. We are all headed to the same destination, eventually.

We who greet these arriving souls rejoice that the old ones have returned and will accompany us through the next cycle of the story.

I struggled and choked as I slid down the road through my mother. She was terrified, had no maternal instruction on birth. I wanted out as quickly as possible yet had serious doubts as to whether I wanted to take it on, a life that early on would run the jagged borders of despair and joy, so I went forwards and backwards, fought and nearly killed both of us as I came into this world, two months before my due date. I still battle impatience and the bad habit of struggle when there need be no fight.

I try to remember the beautiful sense of the pattern that was revealed before that first breath when the struggle in this colonized world threatens to destroy the gifts that my people carry into the world. But we cannot be destroyed. Destiny can be shifted by evil, but only for a little while.

    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 come to greet you when the last human climbs from the destruction.

Remember the hole of our 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.

America's Musical Life



Copyright © 2001 W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. All rights reserved.

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What People are saying about this

Pamela Uschuk
Deeply personal, intimately sensual, her poems are also charged by a vision as expansive as whitman's or Emerson's. Harjo's poems fly beyond boundaries into the layered realityof myth and time as she leaps inward and outward, psychologically and spiritually, potically and mythicall: the task of a master poet. The Map to the Next World is complexly wrought, Rosetta stone of song-making, juxtaposing poetrywith prose....

Meet the Author

Joy Harjo is an internationally known performer and writer of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, the author of ten books of poetry and, most recently, a memoir, Crazy Brave. A critically acclaimed poet, her many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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