The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, Joy Harjo’s seventh collection of poetry, consists primarily of prose poems. The collection is divided into two sections, “Tribal Memory” and “The World Ends Here,” which express the lore of Harjo’s Native American ancestry and her observations of contemporary life. These poems show a concern for content over style. The poetry is presented without conventions of patterned rhyme or meter; the imagery is stark and unadorned.
Each poem is followed by an explanation that contextualizes the piece by offering a brief history of the genesis of the poem or commenting on themes elucidated by the writing. The majority of the book’s poems are narrative, developing stories that explain the destinies of Native American characters who retain identity despite the onslaught of European culture, which strips away their language, lore, and religion. The poems create a universe of oppositions: darkness and light, violence and peace.
Other poems relate stories of ancestry on a more personal level, illuminating a view of many worlds existing at once, interconnected and affecting one another. In “The Naming,” a grandmother “who never had any peace in this life” is “blessed with animals and songs”; after the birth of a “daughter-born-of-my-son . . . the earth is wet with happiness.” As Harjo notes in the explanation of this piece, “When my granddaughter Haleigh was born I felt the spirit of this grandmother in the hospital room. Her presence was a blessing.” In the world that Harjo creates, the living and the dead are united and the physical universe is animate, pulsing with feeling of its own.
“The World Ends Here” offers shorter and more concrete poems than those in “Tribal Memory.” In addition, the poems are concerned with wounds suffered through a history of genocide inflicted upon Native Americans. “When a people institute a bureaucratic department to serve justice then be suspicious,” Harjo warns in “Wolf Warrior.” “The Indian wars never ended in this country,” she writes in the postscript to “Witness.” The poems do not, however, fall into despair. The beauty of nature, the rich rewards of friendship, the joys of music, and the hope of love are continually evident, emerging with their healing power. As Harjo writes in “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” “The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and so it will go on.”