Columbia Star

Healing words for uncertain times

Susan Hendricks

Susan Hendricks

After more than six months sequestered at home due to this ongoing pandemic, I might have organized my closets, our yard, and my stacks of books. But on the contrary, I have been staying in and away from crowds almost every day, barely accomplishing anything beyond necessary chores.

Recently however, I have become motivated and engaged in a project unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It’s the way I start each morning, and it began by pure chance out of the blue.

A dear friend of mine’s illness has forced her to rest more than ever. On a whim, I sent her a poem I thought she might enjoy. This process has become a morning ritual so rewarding that I’m looking for poems to share with her from my stack of eclectic poetry collected over the last 25 years from the Internet, books, magazines, newspapers, workshops, and elsewhere.

Each day I look for a poem—not necessarily one my friend would have read or heard before—but a poem she might enjoy and perhaps recognize herself in the positive traits that characterize her. Sometimes I spend all morning looking for the most appropriate poem that will inspire and perhaps boost her spirits.

This morning I opened Joy Harjo’s collection

“How we Become Human: New and Selected poems: 1975-2001” and reread poems where I’ve turned down page corners or underlined words. I was riveted by Harjo’s very personal introduction to this collection including her long painful struggle and enormous effort she made to discover and share her own voice.

Harjo describes her moment of insight that changed her life after her years of self-doubt and nearing a breakdown in this book’s 14-page introduction.

“Here is where poetry showed up, at this intersection of a glimmer of self-knowledge and the need to make art… Poetry approached me in that chaos of raw inverted power and leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder, (and) said, ‘You need to learn how to listen, you need grace, you need to learn how to speak. You’re coming with me.’ … This was the first poetry, the raw questioning, the falling-in-love-with-poetry, the open-your eyes-and-ears poetry …the need to speak, with an impulse fed by history, dream, myth…. belief, and most of all faith.”

Chosen as United States Poet Laureate in 2019, Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry, and two award-winning children’s books. She has taught in numerous universities, performed at poetry readings and musical events, and released five albums of her original music.

Also known and appreciated as a performing musician, and playwright, Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Nation in her home state of New Mexico, one of the 500 still viable tribal groups in North America.

When asked about her journey with music and poetry, Harjo told a reporter it came early in her life from her mother.

“My mother used to sing and write songs at the kitchen table, and back then, when my father was still with us, a lot of country swing people would come over and jam. Tulsa was very famous for country swing.”

Listen and enjoy her poetry set to music:

One of my favorite poems, “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in its Human Feet” was published in 2015 in “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.” The entire poem is online at joy-harjo/.

Every line exudes ancient wisdom as well as good advice for today. A few lines below from the poem hint of the lilt and power offered in Joy Harjo’s poetry.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control…

Take a breath offered by friendly winds…

Don’t worry …

Do not hold regrets…

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame…

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you….

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you.

Then you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Susan Hendricks leads personal writing groups and workshops approved for CEU credits by the SC Social Work Examiners Board and is an instructor for the Therapeutic Writing Institute online. Read all her Columbia Star columns at:

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