Bless This Land

by  Joy Harjo
An oil painting of mesas and bluffs
Winter Sun, 2017, oil on wood panel, by Kay WalkingStick. Courtesy of the artist and June Kelly Gallery

Bless this land from the top of its head to the bottom of its feet

       From the arctic old white head to the brown feet of tropical rain

Bless the eyes of this land, for they witness cruelty and kindness in
this land

       From sunrise light upright to falling down on your knees night

Bless the ears of this land, for they hear cries of heartbreak
and shouts of celebration in this land

       Once we heard no gunshot on these lands; the trees and stones can be heard singing

Bless the mouth, lips and speech of this land, for the land is a
speaker, a singer, a keeper of all that happens here, on this land

       Luminous forests, oceans, and rock cliff sold for the trash glut
       of gold, uranium, or oil bust rush yet there are new stories to be
       made, little ones coming up over the horizon

Bless the arms and hands of this land, for they remake and restore
beauty in this land

       We were held in the circle around these lands by song, and
       reminded by the knowers that not one is over the other, no
       human above the bird, no bird above the insect, no wind above the grass

Bless the heart of this land on its knees planting food beneath the
eternal circle of breathing, swimming and walking this land

       The heart is a poetry maker. There is one heart, said the poetry
       maker, one body and all poems make one poem and we do not
       use words to make war on this land

              Bless the gut labyrinth of this land, for it is
                    the center of unknowing in this land

Bless the femaleness and maleness of this land, for each holds the
fluent power of becoming in this land

        When it was decided to be in this manner here in this place, this
        land, all the birds made a birdly racket from indigo sky holds

Bless the two legs and two feet of this land, for the sacred always
walks beside the profane in this land

       These words walk the backbone of this land, massaging the tissue
       around the cord of life, which is the tree of life, upon which this
       land stands

Bless the destruction of this land, for new shoots will rise up from
fire, floods, earthquakes and fierce winds to make new this land

       We are land on turtle’s back—when the weight of greed overturns
       us, who will recall the upright song of this land

Bless the creation of new land, for out of chaos we will be
compelled to remember to bless this land

       The smallest one remembered, the most humble one, the one
       whose voice you’d have to lean in a thousand years to hear—we
       will begin there

Bless us, these lands, said the rememberer. These lands aren’t our
lands. These lands aren’t your lands. We are this land.

       And the blessing began a graceful moving through the grasses
       of time, from the beginning, to the circling around place of time,
       always moving, always



Traditional Mvskoke Song

It is said that two beloved women sang this song as their band came over on the Trail of Tears. One woman walked near the front of the people, and the other walked near the back with the small children. When anyone faltered, they would sing this song to hold them up.

Chenaorakvtes Momis komet
Awatchken ohapeyakares hvlwen


Do not get tired.
Don’t be discouraged. Be determined.
Come. Together let’s go toward the highest place.

Translated by Rosemary McCombs Maxey

Editorial note: From An American Sunrise (W.W. Norton, 2019), copyright © 2019 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Editorial note: Listen to Curtis Scott performing “Cehotosakvtes” for Sterlin Harjo’s This May Be the Last Time documentary (2014).

Photo by Karen Kuehn

Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and was named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019. The recipient of multiple awards and honors, most recently she served as executive editor of When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry (2020). Her memoir, Poet Warrior, is forthcoming in fall 2021.