The Poem In Your Pocket

It’s Poem in Your Pocket Day! Halloween for poetry. Carry a poem in your pocket to give to someone like a valentine or trade with someone like a baseball card. Or just hoard poems in your own pocket. Bonus points for poems that taste like candy.

I remember this day last year with nettle-like clarity.  It was a sunny spring day much like this one.  I walked to Gates Circle, up the Parkway with its tiny white flowers and yellow-green budding trees, and down Elmwood.  On Elmwood I stopped into Talking Leaves and obtained a poem from Tina Zigon (a Poetics student).  I thought I recalled getting a different poem from her than the one I am about to reproduce, but upon looking in my drawer of small special things, I found a new poem.  Perhaps the poem I received magically changed into this poem, as this poem now seems more appropriate than the one I remember (which was appropriate last year):


Remember the sky that you were born under,
___know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
_____in a bar once in Iowa City.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
__strongest point of time. Remember sundown
___and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
___her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
__Remember your father. He is your life also.
___Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
_____brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
__tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
___listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
__origin of this universe. I heard her singing Kiowa war
__dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once.
Remember that you are all people and that all people are you.
Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
___Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
_____Remember that language comes from this.
___Remember the dance that language is, that life is.

Joy Harjo

This seems to be a favorite poem for a lot of people. It’s recorded by multiple readers on YouTube (there’s also this filmic non-reading) and reproduced on many websites, often with pictures. Harjo’s work seems to beg to be illustrated with wide landscapes of the desert (like this).

My first experience with Harjo’s work was with one of her most famous poems, “She Had Some Horses.” I do not remember whether our ninth-grade English teacher assigned this reading or if it was merely via her suggestion that I read it.  Like “Remember,” “She Had Some Horses” employs repetition to establish both similarity and difference.  The plurality of “She” (femininity) is reinforced by a listing of attributes, but the rhetorical sameness of each line brings these disparate parts back into the fold of the subject.  This was one of the first “feminist” poems I read and provided encouragement to my ninth-grade psyche, whose sense of self was both rich and well-established at an early age (read: trouble).  “She Had Some Horses”: as text and as a sound recording.


About Jessica Smith
This entry was posted in Contemporary Poetry, gender, personal. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Poem In Your Pocket

  1. yesisaidyesiwillyes says:

    Harjo’s line, “Remember that all is in motion” reminds me of the poem “All Lives, All Dances, & All is Loud,” in the J. Rothenberg edited anthology Technicians of the Sacred .

    Anyway, I love this post! My fervent hope, and yes I know this is delusional, is that it receive more comments than the one about “How to Win (and Lose) A Scorpio Woman.”

  2. Haha Steve… people care far more about their love-lives than about poetry 😉

  3. stv ptrmir says:

    My favorite Harjo poem is “A Map to the Next World.” I was lucky enough, a number of years ago, to escort her and her band up to the Fond du Lac reservation (near Duluth) for a reading/performance. It was great. More recently, she read at a church near Birchbark Books, and even without the band, she really kept everyone spellbound. I like the way this poem reminds us all how interconnected we are to the planet, like one of my favorite plays “Die Wundersame Errettung des Planeten” (inspired by Jura Soyfer’s “Der Welteruntergang”) by a travelling theater group performing in a tent. Makes me think of how that oil leak in the Gulf is like the cut in my finger, only I got the finger to stop bleeding. We’re all bleeding in the Gulf now.

    Thanks for posting this. Alles Gute!

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