The Path to the Milky Way Leads Through Los Angeles

I am completely entranced by the poetry of Joy Harjo, a Muscogee Indian who is also Poet Laureate of the United States. I found the following poem in her collection A Map to the Next World. By the way, Okmulgee is the Oklahoma city that is the center of the Muscogee nation.

The Path to the Milky Way Leads Through Los Angeles

There are strangers above me, below me and all around me and we are all strange in this place of recent invention
This city named for angels appears naked and stripped of anything resembling the shaking of turtle shells, the songs of human voices on a summer night outside Okmulgee.
Yet, it’s perpetually summer here, and beautiful. The shimmer of gods is easier to perceive at sunrise or dusk
when those who remember us here in the illusion of the marketplace
turn toward the changing of the sun and say our names.
We matter to somebody,
We must matter to the strange god who imagines us as we revolve together in the dark sky on the path to the Milky Way,
We can’t easily see that starry road from the perspective of the crossing of boulevards, can’t hear it in the whine of civilization or taste the minerals of planets in hamburgers.
But we can buy a map here of the stars’ homes, dial a tone for dangerous love, choose from several brands of water or a hiss of oxygen for gentle rejuvenation.
Everyone knows you can’t buy love but you can still sell your soul for less than a song to a stranger who will sell it to someone else for a profit
until you’re owned by a company of strangers
in the city of the strange and getting stranger,
I’d rather understand how to sing from a crow
who was never good at singing or much of anything
but finding gold in the trash of humans.
So what are we doing here I ask the crow parading on the ledge of falling that hangs over this precarious city?
Crow just laughs and says wait, wait and see and I am waiting and not seeing anything, not just yet.
But like crow I collect the shine of anything beautiful I can find.

“Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit”

I have just finished reading Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave: A Memoir, which made me hungry to read more of her poetry. Harjo is a Muscogee (Creek) Indian who also happens to be the Poet Laureate of the United States. Below is a short prose poem of hers:

Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit

Don’t bother the earth spirit who lives here. She is working on a story. It is the oldest story in the world and it is delicate, changing. If she sees you watching she will invite you in for coffee, give you warm bread, and you will be obligated to stay and listen. But this is no ordinary story. You will have to endure earthquakes, lightning, the deaths of all those you love, the most blinding beauty. It’s a story so compelling you may never want to leave; this is how she traps you. See that stone finger over there? That is the only one who ever escaped.

The Spiral Road

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

Here is another poem by Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Nation (Este Mvskokvlke), belonging to Oce Vpofv (Hickory Ground). Considering all that has happened to her people, she is curiously optimistic “for earth’s grandsons.” And that is the title of her poem.

For Earth’s Grandsons

Stand tall, no matter your height, how dark your skin
Your spirit is all colors within
You are made of the finest woven light
From the iridescent love that formed your mothers, fathers
Your grandparents all the way back on the spiral road—
There is no end to this love
It has formed your bodies
Feeds your bright spirits
And no matter what happens in these times of breaking—
No matter dictators, the heartless, and liars
No matter—you are born of those
Who kept ceremonial embers burning in their hands
All through the miles of relentless exile
Those who sang the path through massacre
All the way to sunrise
You will make it through—

Pictograph at Chaco Canyon Showing the Spiral Road

I liked the way the poem ends with a dash: All this is still happening. I posted another poem by Joy Harjo on October 20 here. Both poems are taken from her recent book An American Sunrise (New York: W.W. Norton, 2019).

Seven Questions

Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo

I present for your enjoyment—and serious consideration—a poem about politics by Joy Harjo, the Poet Laureate of the U.S., who is also a Muscogee Creek Indian whose people have suffered grievously from lying, weaselly politicians of all stripes through their history as the first real Americans.

The poem is from her collection entitled An American Sunrise.

For Those Who Would Govern

First question: Can you first govern yourself?

Second question: What is the state of your own household?

Third question: Do you have a proven record of community service and compassionate acts?

Fourth question: Do you know the history and laws of your principalities?

Fifth question: Do you follow sound principles? Look for fresh vision to lift all the inhabitants of the land, including animals, plants, elements, all who share this earth?

Sixth question: Are you owned by lawyers, bankers, insurance agents, lobbyists, or other politicians, anyone else who would unfairly profit by your decisions?

Seventh question: Do you have authority by the original keepers of the lands, those who obey natural law and are in the service of the lands on which you stand?


I found interesting Joy’s use of the word principalities in the fourth question. She herself is a member of a sovereign nation that is affiliated with the U.S.

In the sixth question, I would have included real estate developers, who are in my book archvillains.

Looking at our current president, he comes off in honest answers to these questions as a suppurating vessel of gangrenous pus.