Joy Harjo Poems

Joy Harjo is a major American poet who was chosen as poet laureate of the United States. She’s the first Native American to hold that position. Harjo has taught at universities around the United States and has released albums of her music. She’s also the author of children’s books.

All the Tired Horses in the Sun

by Joy Harjo

‘All the Tired Horses in the Sun’ by Joy Harjo is a short but deeply somber poem that seeks to express an all too potent existential exhaustion felt by indigenous communities.

This poem by Joy Harjo is a great example of the poet's penchant for experimenting with style and form. Through the use of both repetition and succinct imagery, she creates an impactful portrait of the lives and existence of Indigenous people, one that highlights with quiet devastation the desperate and everlasting pain that is synonymous with their lives.


And ever.

And ever.

There’s my cousin. Auntie. Uncle.

Invisible Fish

by Joy Harjo

‘Invisible Fish’ by Joy Harjo is a beautiful poem that illustrates time’s oppressive persistence on both the natural world and humankind.

This poem by Joy Harjo offers a surreal but no less insightful glimpse into both the past and future, one that is accentuated and colored by the poet's knack for creating spellbinding images and figurative language. The most striking and arresting of which has to be the one found in its opening line: "Invisible fish swim this ghost ocean."

Invisible fish swim this ghost ocean now described by waves of sand, by water-worn rock. Soon the fish will learn to walk.

Memory Sack

by Joy Harjo

‘Memory Sack’ by Joy Harjo is a poignant poem that reveals human memory as a uniting characteristic of our existence.

This poem by Joy Harjo might be on the shorter side, but that does not make it any less impactful. One of the beautiful elements of her poetry is its ability to discover and celebrating elements of our shared humanity. This poem hones in on our ability and desire to make memories as a source of meaning and purpose.

That first cry opens the earth door.

We join the ancestor road

With our pack of memories

Slung slack on our backs

She Had Some Horses

by Joy Harjo

‘She Had Some Horses’ by Joy Harjo illustrates the plurality of differences among people.

One of the reasons this poem by Joy Harjo is so effective is its commitment to both anaphora and the versatile symbolism of the horses. This allows the author to make sweepingly broad and intimately specific allusions to human nature via a collection of disarming images.

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.

She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.

She had horses who were skins of ocean water.

This Morning I Pray for My Enemies

by Joy Harjo

‘This Morning I Pray for My Enemies’ by Joy Harjo is a powerful poem that reveals the razor-thin line that separates who we consider a friend or enemy.

This poem is a wonderful example of Joy Harjo's poetry and the themes it often encompasses. Here the poet wrestles with a question of conflict and the dangerous circumstances through which an enemy can be transformed into a friend. That tension is beautifully illustrated by her use of both imagery and figurative language.

And whom do I call my enemy?

An enemy must be worthy of engagement.

I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.

It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.

Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit

by Joy Harjo

‘Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit’ by Joy Harjo is a heavily symbolic poem that personifies nature as a mesmerizing storyteller.

This poem by Joy Harjo is a phenomenal example of the poet's ability to conjure up short, myth-like narratives that unearth an eternal truth about life. Here, the poet focuses their eye on alluring imagery and figurative language upon creating an archetypal story. One that represents life in all its wonderful and terrible awe.

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.



by Joy Harjo

‘Without’ by Joy Harjo is a moving poem that explores everything from death to the dualities of human nature.

This poem by Joy Harjo showcases the poet's masterful use of imagery of figurative language. One that offers a vividly emotional look at life after we've been removed from the equation. The result is a beautiful poem that tries to reconcile or find some understanding in the grandiose dualities found in life and people.

The world will keep trudging through time without us

When we lift from the story contest to fly home

My House is the Red Earth

by Joy Harjo
My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world. I’ve heard New York, Paris, or Tokyo called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble.

Explore more poems from Joy Harjo


by Joy Harjo

‘Remember’ by Joy Harjo is a thoughtful poem about human connection and the earth. The poet emphasizes how important it is to remember one’s history and relation to all living things.

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