cover image A Map to the Next World: Poetry and Tales

A Map to the Next World: Poetry and Tales

Joy Harjo. W. W. Norton & Company, $22.95 (138pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04790-5

Weaving together myth, generations-old stories and other souces of cultural memory, Harjo (The Woman Who Fell from the Sky; In Mad Love and War; etc.) explores the complexities of identity in a people still haunted by its violently disrupted past. (Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke or Creek Nation.) A facing-page dialogue between poetry and prose, the absorbing long poem ""Returning from the Enemy,"" attempts to reconcile memories of the poet's absent father with memories of her own children, of ancestors and of ""each trigger of grass"": ""We want to know if it's possible to separate and come back together, as the river licking the dock merges with the sea a few blocks away.// Long-legged birds negotiate the shore for food.// I am not as graceful as these souls."" At its best, Harjo's map reveals regenerative human cycles that occur even in the midst of the most oppressive histories, with irreconcilably different worlds illuminating each other: a violent mugging becomes an encounter with the Navajo twin monsters; a fake snake set up to scare neighborhood birds becomes a fable of wisdom and perseverance. The more straightforward political critiques can be blandly accusatory: ""Why have I come here/ I asked the dark, whose voice is the roar of history as it travels/ with the thoughts of humans who have made the monster."" But Harjo's exploration of her layered selves reveals an identity of multiple influences, memories, obstacles and experiences. (Feb.)