Harjo, “Fishing”

Joy Harjo

Read By: Natalie Gawdiak

This is the longest day of the year, on the Illinois River or a similar river in the same place. Cicadas are part of the song as they praise their invisible ancestors while fish blinking back the relentless sun in Oklahoma circle in the muggy river of life. They dare the fisher to come and get them. Fish too anticipate the game of fishing. Their ancestors perfected the moves, sent down stories that appear as electrical impulse when sunlight hits water. The hook carries great symbology in the coming of age, and is crucial to the making of warriors. The greatest warriors are those who dangle a human for hours on a string, break sacred water for the profanity of air then snap fiercely back into pearly molecules that describe fishness. They smell me as I walk the banks with fishing pole, nightcrawlers and a promise I made to that old friend Louis to fish with him this summer. This is the only place I can keep that promise, inside a poem as familiar to him as the banks of his favorite fishing place. I try not to let the fish see me see them as they look for his tracks on the soft earth made of fossils and ashes. I hear the burble of fish talk: When is that old Creek coming back? He was the one we loved to tease most, we liked his songs and once in awhile he gave us a good run. Last night I dreamed I tried to die, I was going to look for Louis. It was rather comical. I worked hard to muster my last breath, then lay down in the summer, along the banks of the last mythic river, my pole and tackle box next to me. What I thought was my last breath floated off as a cloud making an umbrella of grief over my relatives. How embarrassing when the next breath came, and then the next. I reeled in one after another, as if I’d caught a bucket of suckers instead of bass. I guess it wasn’t my time, I explained, and went fishing anyway as a liar and I know most fishers to be liars most of the time. Even Louis when it came to fishing, or even dying. The leap between the sacred and profane is as thin as a fishing line, and is part of the mystery on this river of life, as is the way out. People continue to make warriors in the strangest of times. I save this part of the poem for the fish camp next to the oldest spirits whose dogs bark to greet visitors. It’s near Louis’s favorite spot where the wisest and fattest fish laze. I’ll meet him there.

  • Joy Harjo
  • 20th Century
  • English
  • Poetry
  • Nature
  • Politics
  • Difficulty
  • Death
  • Elegy
  • Favorite Poem Project

Joy Harjo, "Fishing," from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Horjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.