18 pages 36 minutes read

Joy Harjo

This Morning I Pray for My Enemies

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Acclaimed author Joy Harjo is currently serving as United States poet laureate (2019-2029). Much of her work reflects her time in the southwest and deals with themes related to her Indigenous American heritage. These aspects of her poetry are present in “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies,” a 2015 piece evoking emotion through sparse, but vibrant, imagery. “This Morning” is published in Harjo’s poetry collection Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings as well as having been reprinted and made publicly available on the Academy of American Poets website.

In the poem, the speaker muses on the question of being close to one’s enemies and the contrast between the heart and the mind. In particular, “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” reflects Harjo’s interest in presenting poetry that challenges her reader to think in new ways—specifically in ways that are decolonial or counter to Western culture.

Poet Biography

An extremely accomplished author, Joy Harjo is known for both her poetry, nonfiction, and music. She is the author of several poetry books, including the aforementioned collection Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, which was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Harjo is currently serving a 10-year term as the United States poet laureate; she is the first Indigenous American to be awarded this honor.

Joy Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek tribe. She was born Joy Foster on May 9, 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma as the eldest of five children; at age 19, when she officially joined the Mvskoke branch of the Creek tribe, she changed her last name to Harjo, meaning “courage.” Her mother, aunt, and grandmother were musicians and artists who inspired Harjo’s early love of the arts. Harjo wrote her first poem in the eighth grade. Though she entered the university as a pre-med student, Harjo earned her bachelor’s degree in art from the University of New Mexico. She published her first poetry collection, a nine-poem chapbook called The Last Song, a year prior to her graduation in 1975. She went on to obtain a master’s in fine arts in 1978 from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Harjo has, to date, published nine books of poetry, plays, works for children, and two memoirs. Over the course of her career, Harjo has continued to draw praise; even some of her earlier works, like In Mad Love and War (1990) and The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (1994), won awards. In 2015, Harjo was recognized by the Academy of American Poets with the Wallace Stevens Award. In addition to these, Harjo’s work as a poet, writer, and musician have earned her a number of other accolades, including the PEN Open Book Award, The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Writers Circle of the Americas.

Poem Text

And whom do I call my enemy?

An enemy must be worthy of engagement.

I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.

It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.

The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.

It sees and knows everything.

It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.

The door to the mind should only open from the heart.

An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

Harjo, Joy. “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies.” 2015. Academy of American Poets.


A relatively short poem, “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” is a philosophical reflection from an unnamed speaker. The title of the poem, which is almost an enjambed opening, sets up a general scene: The speaker is praying for their enemies. As the poem opens, the speaker wonders, “And whom do I call my enemy?” (Line 1). This tension—who is an enemy and who is not—frames the rest of the speaker’s musings.

The center of the poem describes the contrast between the speaker’s heart and “furious mind” (Line 4). As the speaker tries to decide which enemies are “worthy of engagement” (Line 2), they determine that the heart, which “sees and knows everything” (Line 6), should be the only thing that opens “the door to the mind” (Line 8). Though there are few details as to the setting, this conflict takes place as the speaker walks “in the direction of the sun” (Line 3), implying a kind of journey taking place as they struggle to discover the answer to who their enemies are.

The poem concludes with the idea that enemies who are allowed to get close could become “a friend” (Line 9), which is a “danger” (Line 9). The last line seems to answer the first question, providing a circular ending. The speaker can only call someone an enemy who is close enough to engage; by definition, therefore, an enemy can become a friend.