How We Became Human

Book Cover: How We Became Human

Any acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice.

This collection gathers poems from throughout Joy Harjo's twenty-eight-year career, beginning in 1973 in the age marked by the takeover at Wounded Knee and the rejuvenation of indigenous cultures in the world through poetry and music. How We Became Human explores its title question in poems of sustaining grace.

Over a quarter-century's work from the 2003 winner of the Arrell Gibson Award for Lifetime Achievement.

W.W. Norton

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  1. DECEMBER 21-22, 2018
    for Joy Harjo

    our breath waits between us here tonight

    the night of the winter solstice
    the night of the full moon
    the night our ancestors called the Cold Moon
    the night of Ursid meteor showers

    and just before sunrise tomorrow
    in the southeast sky
    a transiting Mercury will conjunct Jupiter

    Mercury and Jupiter will be as one
    they will be one light
    one light in the morning sky
    only 0.9 degrees apart
    only two moon diameters apart
    bringing a bright twilight at sunrise

    and in that light
    the rising sun will paint the faces
    of our children yet unborn

    we will know them by name

    we have always known their names

    we have known their names
    from before
    we could speak

    and tonight
    we breathe in the letters in the smoke
    of our campfire
    we breathe out the smoke
    and spell our children’s names

    each of them

    this is how we become human…all of us

    John Good Iron
    Ukiah CA

  2. I discovered you in TIME Magazine. Your words made me stop and think.
    I grew up in Idaho in the 50’s – 60’s near the Kootenai Indian reservation. I always felt sad about the Tribe’s plight, especially when I would see young Indian men trying to get into the local bars. I read about their attempts to re-introduce sturgeon into the Moyie River. Alas, it was not to be. When I went back to Bonners Ferry to a high school reunion in 2014, the Kootenai tribe owned the local hotel/Indian casino. The hotel is beautiful with wonderful Indian-inspired art everywhere. I guess their 50-year journey took them to a good/poignant (?) “place”!

    • There are hundreds of deep and personal stories in between each line of time demarcation. The young men in the bars are directly linked to history, land, and the sturgeon, as well as to the observers.

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