Perhaps the World Ends Here – Joy Harjo

 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.

Perhaps the World Ends Here 

This title may seem apocalyptic given the current state of world affairs but this poem was published in 1994 (since June 2019, Harjo has been the first native American U.S. poet laureate). This one has been on my mind even before the virus erupted, for its touching and universal imagery of the beauty of humanity.

No matter what, we must eat to live. Who can argue with this? And to say The world begins at a kitchen table seems a reasonable association to make, does it not? Since time out of mind, The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. Can you picture your own first family kitchen table? Mine was scuffed pine, painted turquoise, my mother’s favourite colour. What foods nourished you there?

Harjo recalls the many events that take place around such a table, joys and sorrows, births and deaths, prayers of thanks. We nurture our children here; we dream and gossip over coffee; it provides shelter from rain and sun; we hide and celebrate here. In other words, life goes on in all its mundane and essential forms. 

So it has been since creation, and it will go on. It is going on right now in kitchens all over the world as we struggle to understand what is happening around us, as we slow down and retreat from the chaos that life has become for many of us. So sit at your kitchen table today and recall all that it has witnessed and know that should the world end here, we will be laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

May you be safe. May you be well.

20 thoughts on “Perhaps the World Ends Here – Joy Harjo

  1. Metal and arborite with red cushion chairs – so retro! Slide show of memories – love the constancy of sharing a meal – let’s hear it for the tables! Thanks Jan xo

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  2. Love this poem. Our dining room table, none in kitchen, has heard and seen it all. Once my older brother announced at the table that if the bomb, you know which bomb, were dropped on the Shipyard, we would be on the lip of the crater. So, it’s true in my mind that the world, one way or another, may end with ones I love around the dinner table. Thanks for this poem and reflection.

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  3. Yes…if kitchen tables could talk… What a perfect poem Jan. It touched me deeply – ripples spreading out across a life time. Thank you. Lisa💗

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  4. beautiful janice
    thank you for this. it sunk in deeply for the 2 of us……
    i have been waiting with eager eyes and open heart for your offering this week and it is sooooooo appropriate.

    bless you, over and over again.
    with love,
    eileen and ed

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  5. I love this! So grounding amidst all the panic. Margaret 613-725-6941 h 613-795-9879 c

    Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

    – Oscar Wilde.

    >

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  6. Dear Jan – this poem and your questions launch memories of the many kitchen tables I have been lucky enough to sit around. From meals to Scrabble games to heart-to-heart talks, these kitchen tables have given me nourishment, camaraderie and soul challenges! Thank you, dear heart, for Joy Harjo’s timely words. xoxox

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