Perhaps the World Ends Here by 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.

Summary and Analysis

The poem was first published in 1994 in the fourth volume of poetry titled The woman who fell from the sky (ed. 1996). The poem is written in free verse and revolves around a material imagery of Kitchen Table whilst enquiring into the humane that in its outstanding vivacity is obliged to the indigenous wisdom of harmony.

The Kitchen table becomes pivotal in conjuring the subsequent imageries of fluidity of time passing through people and captured by the moment in memories. The idea of making men and women in the table by giving instruction derives from the moral or ethical principles of harmony and wisdom by indigenous elders who have been witness to the horrors of colonial and post-colonial power and greed. “We must eat to live” is reflective of a tenor situated in an era of constant deconstructions and further enquiries by a poet who is fighting for the visibility of her native land. The gifts of earth are located in a conscience of a woman who is affronted by the deteriorating climatic conditions and conditions of native women as a class.

The “End” in the title of the poem subsumes a beginning of consonance in Harjo’s words “This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.” The web of memories is recited and encoded in a space that is buzzing with the action which albeit mundane is yet profound in its humanness. A table of possibilities situated in the Kitchen is an ingenious metaphor by a woman poet who dislocates the idea of immensity which is phallocentric and euro-centric. The humble abode becomes the very core of the spiritual and emanates a deep wisdom that burgeons from a space which otherwise has been relegated to the feminine and the familial. Perhaps the world will end here and begin anew as a space more “life affirming” and “we give thanks” to this warmth which is life eternal. The eleven lines in the poem are of varied length and use free verse to sketch the movement of life which is nonlinear and subject to the birth, teething, war, laughter, burial and tacitly placed around the Kitchen table.

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