32 pages 1 hour read

Joy Harjo

An American Sunrise

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2017

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Symbols & Motifs


Music and sound are a major part of “An American Sunrise,” from the actual rhythm and cadence of the poem’s literal language to the references of jukeboxes, drums, and musical genres presented from start to finish. The idea of “drumming” together (Line 6) creates a sense of communal unity, and also summons an idea of a ceremony or celebration that is driven by a singular tempo. This morphs later in the poem into music playing inside the jukebox of the bar, as the speaker inserts coins to select her favorite songs so that she can dance joyously while demanding “justice” (Line 13). The music activates not only the speaker’s body, but her mind and spirit as well, and helps to awaken her connection to a higher power and a sense of belonging that goes beyond her individualistic pursuits into something greater: justice for her people. Preceding this moment, the speaker argues with someone in the bar whom she wants to convince that “We / had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz” (Lines 10-11). This argument calls back to the idea of a lineage created from within the body and expressed through sound to create resistance and joy in a way that sustains itself in moments such as those described in this poem.