“Summer Night” is a thirty-five-line poem visually arrayed so that alternating lines dominate either the right-or lefthand side of the page. The poem, written in free verse, describes the persona’s impressions of a balmy summer night spent waiting for a lover to come home. In an autobiographical piece, Joy Harjo wrote that she had wanted the poem to capture the feel of a humid Oklahoma night and the impressions of her family’s home.
The narrative opens with a description of the nearly full moon and flowers. In the night, children can be heard playing; their parents’ laughter and music can also be heard inside the house. The narrator observes this world, listening to its sounds and feeling its rhythms while she waits, once again, for someone to return home—something that apparently is a common occurrence.
Although the poem is not divided into stanzas, the beginning of line 17 marks a shift in perspective from the neighborhood and other people to focus on the emotions of the speaker. The narrator talks of loneliness and of what it feels like to be waiting in the dark on a humid, heavy summer night. Everyone else is sleeping, and it seems that they are all sleeping with someone: Even the night itself is cradled in the arms of day. The narrator sees herself as the only thing without a partner.
The poem’s final section is marked by the unseen intrusion of the person she has been waiting for, a return heralded by the scent of a honeysuckle brushed by the person, whom Harjo describes as blooming out of night’s darkness. The poem concludes, giving no indication of whether the reunion is pleasant or what problems cause this unnamed individual to be away so often—or even, precisely, who he or she is.