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A Poem for a Thursday #98

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

 Joy Harjo is the incumbent United States Poet Laureate. She is the first Native American to hold this position and is from the Muscogee Nation. She is a poet, musician, playwright, and author. She says of her writing process "I no longer see the poem as an ending point, perhaps more the end of a journey, an often long journey that can begin years earlier, say with the blur of the memory of the sun on someone's cheek, a certain smell, an ache, and will culminate years later in a poem, sifted through a point, a lake in my heart through which language must come."

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter

   what we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set

   on the table. So it has been since creation,

   and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies

   teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees

   under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on 

   what it means to be human, We make men

   at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the

   ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put

   their arms around our children. They laugh

   with us at our poor falling-down selves and

   as we put ourselves back together once again

   at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an

   umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a 

   place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place

   to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have

   prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We 

   pray of suffering and remorse. We give


Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,

   while we are laughing and crying, eating of

   the last sweet bite.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

Joy Harjo

Seeing Clearly


I met an old friend for lunch the other week. We have been friends for about twenty years and she views me, so she says, as the big sister she never had. We are both quiet introverts with a good bit of social anxiety though you would never believe that if you saw and heard us talking for three hours straight. Over the years, we have talked a lot about how to combat our inclination to stay home and avoid people and how to overcome our conviction that we always look as awkward as we feel. 

This time, as we were catching up on life during the year or so since we have seen each other, she told me that someone had recently told her she was intimidating. She was shaking her head in disbelief as she told me about it. He told her she had a good job, had recently bought a house, dealt with everything in her life on her own, and simply exuded self-confidence. He thought it was great and was definitely complimenting her but she was baffled because inside she is still the shy, insecure girl she feels she has always been. She still has to steel herself to join a conversation. She still has to convince herself to go to social events. But that isn't what other people see. They see someone who has it all together. 

I started thinking about how frequently our image of ourselves does not match how others perceive us. I know we always hear that saying about seeing ourselves as others see us but I always thought of that as maybe we are too hard on ourselves or maybe we are louder or quieter than we think we are. I never thought about how others can see a completely different person.  We learn coping mechanisms for our personality quirks and slowly these coping mechanisms become part of who we are. Or they become part of who we are to others but frequently we still think of ourselves as the same as we were years ago. We know we are still the person who worries the whole way to a party but other people see the person who walks in the door with confidence. 

My friend realized, and loved the realization, that she is a strong, independent woman. But she is a strong, independent woman who still has social anxiety and still wants to stay home more than is good for her. We are complex people but sometimes we do ourselves a disservice by freezing our self-perception at one stage in our lives. 

I have also been thinking about how since we know ourselves so well we sometimes think others will understand our actions and attitudes. My friend and I have come to the realization over the years that we can both appear distant and a bit unfriendly at times. This was a shock to both of us at different times in our lives. We felt our shyness and anxiety was so obvious that everyone must understand. But they didn't. They just saw someone who didn't mix in much and who frequently let other people approach them instead of being the one to initiate conversations. We knew why we were doing that (overthinking can kill a lot of spontaneity) but they didn't. What was clear to us wasn't clear to them. 

I am not sure what the point of this post is other than that I loved watching my shy, quiet friend revel in the realization that she is strong and independent. And aren't we all both in many ways? Maybe it would be a better world if we looked for the facets in each other instead of the one-dimensional viewpoint. We know we are complex. Let's give other people the benefit of the doubt and believe they are complex too. Maybe they aren't unfriendly, they are just shy. Maybe they talk too much because no one has listened before. Maybe they don't mean to be overbearing it is simply that they are enthusiastic. And maybe that confident woman walking in the door at the party is scared stiff and could use someone to talk to.

A Poem for a Thursday #97

Photo by Beto Galetto on Unsplash

 Derek Walcott was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright who lived from 1930-2017. He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. Robert Graves said of him that he "handles English with a  closer understanding of its inner magic than most, if not any, of his contemporaries."

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Love After Love
Derek Walcott