Friday, 17 May 2024

American Life in Poetry: Memory Sack

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

It is remarkable how our U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, in so few words, summarizes something of the cycle of our mortality with such clarity and grace.

With our first cry after birth, she says, we enter “ancestor road” — a place of creation and destruction — life, in other words — but what we carry loosely through this life are our memories.

Most comforting for me is the last line that affirms our purpose in life, “to make more.”

Memory Sack
By Joy Harjo

That first cry opens the earth door.
We join the ancestor road.
With our pack of memories
Slung slack on our backs
We venture into the circle
Of destruction,
Which is the circle
Of creation
And make more-


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2019 by Joy Harjo, “MEMORY SACK” from An American Sunrise (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2019.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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