The Dawn Appears with Butterflies

Harjo, Joy

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: Jun-28-1999


A young husband has died suddenly (has abandoned his wife "to the grace we pursue as wild horses in the wind") and his widow prepares his body for a dawn burial. The widow's friend tells the story in this prose poem, figuring life as a "gradual return to the maker of butterflies." The two women share a joke about burying the husband in "the shirt you always wanted him to wear, a shirt he hated." The speaker affirms that "we are all dying together, though there is nothing like the loneliness of being the first or the last."


In this poem the process of grieving and preparing for burial is both humorous and deeply relational. The speaker and her friend, the widow, share a night of waiting before the funeral and the depth of loss is counterbalanced ("your tears made a pale butterfly, the color of dawn") by the deep sense of connection with the whole universe and an acceptance of the inevitability of death for us all. Harjo's imagery of butterflies at dawn carries with it a sense of joy and triumph over darkness and raises questions about the nature of grief and of the role of spirituality in the grieving process.


This edition came with a wonderful cassette of Harjo reading many of the poems (and commentaries) in this volume.

Primary Source

The Woman Who Fell From The Sky: Poems


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York