Veterans often come back from war—whatever war— carrying burdens that the rest of us will never have to shoulder.
At WitnessLA we often post music on Veterans Day in honor of those who have served, and those who still serve.
But today we were reading through some of the poetry that The Poetry Foundation and the American Academy of American Poets each listed in honor of Veterans Day. So we thought this year we’d offer a poem.
Among the many on the various lists was Joy Harjo’s Remember, which you’ll find below.
Some of the poems we liked are specifically about war and service. Some, like Harjo’s, come through the doorway of some of life’s other large themes, and thus have their own way of reaching out.
We thought Harjo seemed a good choice because, in June of 2019, she was appointed the new United States poet laureate. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1951, Joy Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. Her newest book of poetry, An American Sunrise, came out this past August. She is a current Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and lives in Tulsa.
But, there are many other poets and poems listed, and one may speak to you more.
So, to our veterans, with gratitude:
by Joy Harjo
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
And maybe one piece of music for Veterans Day too, after all. Here’s Emmy Lou Harris singing Bang the Drum Slowly, which she wrote (with the help of Guy Clark) for her father, a WWII veteran.
“Remember.” Copyright ©1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Photo at top/WitnessLA