Poems for Challenging Times 5

Despite its somewhat apocalyptic title, today’s poem by Joy Harjo is as uplifting as it is haunting.  

Harjo was born in 1951 in Oklahoma. As well as publishing nine poetry collections, she is a musician (playing saxophone in her band Poetic Justice) and author of two children’s books. In 2019, she became the first Native American to occupy the position of US Poet Laureate.

Perhaps the World Ends Here celebrates the simple solidity of the kitchen table, around which are woven the rituals, occasions and everyday activities that comprise ‘what it means to be human.’ 

Life in all its everyday fulness is connected to this central domestic artefact. The table is both a place to hide from the terrifying and a space to gather for gossip. Around it are sustenance and restoration; tears and laughter; birth and death.The table holds meals and memories as it stands for the shared lives and common humanity of a family down the generations.

The poem’s statements of what the table is, does and means have an incantational quality, and are beautifully balanced between the weighty and the gentle.

As with every evocative poem, it walks the line between the specific and universal: It’s about the poet’s kitchen table, and about every kitchen table. Perhaps it prompts memories of yours, or even of another piece of furniture or object in your home that holds a significance in your life beyond its own mere substance. 

This could be a springboard for your own writing. Or why not take a particularly striking line or phrase from the poem as a starting point for your own? My particular favourite is ‘Our dreams drink coffee with us.’  


Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table so it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite. 

Joy Harjo

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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

    Read more about Julia
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