Secrets from the Center of the World: Poet Joy Harjo’s Reflections on Science and Meaning in Response to an Astronomer’s Otherworldly Photographs of Earth

“Place and a mind might interpenetrate till the nature of both is modified,” the trailblazing Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd wrote into the space of self-elected obscurity decades prior to her work was posthumously uncovered as an uncommon masterpiece of landscape poetics irradiated by the human search for significance. A generation later on, another trailblazing lady of unusual poetic perceptiveness and intimate relationship to the land echoed the sentiment in her own art, into her native canyons of the American Southwest: “Its true that landscape forms the mind. Mudhills, Beautiful Valley by Stephen StromIf all events are related, then what story does a volcano emerging in Hawaii, the birth of a females second child near Gallup, and this shoulderbone of earth made of a mythic beasts anger construct? Near Burnham, Bisti Badlands by Stephen StromThese smoky bluffs are old traveling companions, making their way through centuries. Junction Overlook, Canyon de Chelly by Stephen StromMy house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world.

Mudhills near Nazlini by Stephen StromI can hear the sizzle of newborn stars, and understand anything of significance, of the intense magic emerging here. I am witness to versatile eternity, the evolving past, and I know we will live permanently, as dust or breath in the face of stars, in the moving pattern of winds.

Abandoned hogan south of Bluff, UT by Stephen StromThis land is a poem of ochre and burnt sand I could never compose, unless paper were the sacrament of sky, and ink the damaged line of wild horses staggering the horizon several miles away. Even then, does anything written ever matter to the sky, earth, and wind?

Junction Overlook, Canyon de Chelly by Stephen StromMy home is the red earth; it might be the center of the world. Ive heard New York, Paris, or Tokyo called the center of the world, but I state it is superbly modest. That deceive crow, choosing through garbage near the corral, comprehends the center of the world as greasy strips of fat.

Overlook, evening, Bluff, UT by Stephen StromThis earth has actually dreamed me to base on the increase of this highway, to admire who she has become.

Mudhills, Beautiful Valley by Stephen StromIf all occasions are related, then what story does a volcano appearing in Hawaii, the birth of a ladys second child near Gallup, and this shoulderbone of earth made of a mythic monsters anger construct? Somebody develops aerodynamics, makes wings.

Emerging from the beautiful call-and-response in between Stroms pictures and Harjos brief lyrical reflection is a subtle meditation on the interpenetration of location and mind, of landscape and the human spirit. Considering the ochre canyons and the golden valleys, the pleated sierras and the rippling mudhills, the frosty branches of the winter season trees and the summer-blazed strata of sandstone, she unfolds the origami of deep time into a note some ghost-mother left for her ghost-child long ago on the edge of the kitchen table, on the edge of the world, engraved with the significance of being human.

Harjo looks at the Moon and sees “an ancient mountain lion who shifts his bones on a starry branch,” takes a look at the branches of the tamaracks and sees crows “leaning over the edge of the world, tasting the wind blown up from a swimming pool of recently born planets,” takes a look at the land and sees its essential poetry, sees how it humbles her own art, her own presence, every human presence and all of our art.

“Place and a mind may interpenetrate till the nature of both is changed,” the trailblazing Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd composed into deep space of self-elected obscurity decades prior to her work was posthumously uncovered as an uncommon masterpiece of landscape poetics irradiated by the human look for meaning. A generation later on, another trailblazing woman of unusual poetic sensibility and intimate relationship to the land echoed the belief in her own art, into her native canyons of the American Southwest: “Its true that landscape forms the mind. If I stand here enough time Ill discover how to sing.”

Near Burnham, Bisti Badlands by Stephen StromThese smoky bluffs are old taking a trip companions, making their method through centuries. If you desire to understand about the true significance of history, ask them. Youll have to use them something more than one great story, and need to comprehend the persistence of stones.

Harjo– a member of the Creek Nation– fulfills the cosmological perceptiveness of the photos with a private cosmogony drawn from that ancient human impulse to find ourselves in relation to the universe, to make significance in the sliver of spacetime on which opportunity has perched us to live out our lives in between the scale of protozoa and the scale of galaxies. She envelops each picture in a short prose-poem that takes the image as its origin point of contemplation, then radiates centrifugally into a mini universe of metaphor and meaning-making– the mark of all great poetry.

Desert Floor near Round Rock, AZ by Stephen StromNear Round Rock is a point of balance between two red stars. Here you may enter stellar memory, camouflaged as a whirlpool of sand, and find you are pure occasion blended with water, taking place in time and space, as sheep, a couple of goats, graze, keep watch nearby.

Complement Secrets from the Center of the World with poet Mark Strands kindred partnership with painter Wendy Mark around the landscape of the sky, 89 Clouds, then review painter, philosopher, and poet Etel Adnans Journey to Mount Tamalpais– her spectacular landscape-lensed meditation on time, self, impermanence, and transcendence.

Desert flooring near Shiprock, NM by Stephen StromMy cheek is flat versus memory explained by stone and lichen. The center of the world is within reach. It is as familiar as your name, as strange as monsters in your sleep.

East of Nazlini, increasing towards Fort Defiance Plateau, winter season by Stephen StromIn winter season it is simpler to see what my death might look like, over there, vanishing into the misty, spotted rocks.

Strom– who received his postgraduate degree from Harvard, studied the formation of star and planetary systems at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, taught astronomy in Emily Dickinsons home town for a years and a half, and spent 3 decades photographing the Southwest– renders Earth otherworldly in his pictures, extra and singular, edged in by unnoticeable suggested horizons, the method the desert suggests life, the method poetry makes life noticeable. Exposing the fractal pattern of nature, his subtle geometries of shape and color reach beyond the three spatial measurements to intimate the measurement of time.

In 1989, long prior to she ended up being Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo laced visions with the astronomer and professional photographer Stephen Strom in Secrets from the Center of the World (town library)– a slim, magnificent installation in the University of Arizonas fantastic Sun Tracks series, commemorating Native American literary art long before Native representation increased to the fore of the American mainstream, long prior to the English language awakened to how deeply its etymological dependence on the Earth permeates words as ordinary as mainstream.