Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace

At dawn the panther of the heavens peers over the edge of the world.   
She hears the stars gossip with the sun, sees the moon washing her lean   
darkness with water electrified by prayers. All over the world there are those   
who can't sleep, those who never awaken.   

My granddaughter sleeps on the breast of her mother with milk on   
her mouth. A fly contemplates the sweetness of lactose.

Her father is wrapped in the blanket of nightmares. For safety he   
approaches the red hills near Thoreau. They recognize him and sing for   

Her mother has business in the house of chaos. She is a prophet dis-   
guised as a young mother who is looking for a job. She appears at the   
door of my dreams and we put the house back together.   

Panther watches as human and animal souls are lifted to the heavens by   
rain clouds to partake of songs of beautiful thunder.   

Others are led by deer and antelope in the wistful hours to the vil-   
lages of their ancestors. There they eat cornmeal cooked with berries   
that stain their lips with purple while the tree of life flickers in the sun.   

It's October, though the season before dawn is always winter. On the   
city streets of this desert town lit by chemical yellow travelers   
search for home.   

Some have been drinking and intimate with strangers. Others are   
escapees from the night shift, sip lukewarm coffee, shift gears to the   
other side of darkness.   

One woman stops at a red light, turns over a worn tape to the last   
chorus of a whispery blues. She has decided to live another day.   

The stars take notice, as do the half-asleep flowers, prickly pear and   
chinaberry tree who drink exhaust into their roots, into the earth.   

She guns the light to home where her children are asleep and may   
never know she ever left. That their fate took a turn in the land of   
nightmares toward the sun may be untouchable knowledge.   

It is a sweet sound.   

The panther relative yawns and puts her head between her paws.   
She dreams of the house of panthers and the seven steps to grace.

Joy Harjo, “Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace” from The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: Poems. Copyright © 1996 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Source: The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1996)
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