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About this poet

Sherwin Bitsui is originally from White Cone, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. He is Diné of the Todích’ii’nii, born for the Tlizí-laaní. He received an AFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and a BA from the University of Arizona in Tuscon.

Bitsui is the author of Dissolve (Copper Canyon Press, 2018); Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), which received a 2010 PEN Open Book Award; and Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press, 2003).

Of his work, Sherman Alexie writes, “Sherwin Bitsui sees violent beauty in the American landscape. There are junipers, black ants, axes, and cities dragging their bridges. I can hear Whitman’s drums in these poems and I can see Ginsberg’s supermarkets.”

He is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Native Arts & Culter Foundation Arts Fellowship, a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation, and a Whiting Writers’ Award. He teaches in the low-residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Bibliography

Dissolve (Copper Canyon Press, 2018)
Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press, 2009
Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press, 2003)

The Caravan

The city’s neon embers
stripe the asphalt’s blank page
where this story pens itself nightly;
where ghosts weave their oily hair
into his belt of ice,
dress him in pleated shadows
and lay him fetal
on the icy concrete—
the afterbirth of sirens glistening over him.

We drain our headlights
on his scraped forehead
and watch the December moon
two-step across his waxen eyes;
his mouth’s shallow pond—
          a reflecting pool
          where his sobs leak into my collar.

One more, just one more, he whispers,
as he thaws back into the shape of nihitstilí
bruised knees thorning against his chest.

We steal away,
our wheels moan
through sleet and ash.

Death places second, third,
and fourth behind us.

At home on the Reservation:
Father sifts dried cedar leaves
over glowing embers,
Mother, hovering
above cellphone light, awaits:
          He’s okay,
          never went out,
          watched a movie instead.

But tonight,
my speech has knives
that quiver at the ellipses
of neon Budweiser signs
blinking through the fogged windshield,
and I text:
          I’ve only rescued a sliver of him,
          he’s only twenty-five
          and he smells like blood and piss,
          his turquoise bracelet snatched for pawn,
          by the same ghost who traded his jacket
          for a robe of snow and ice,
          before inviting him
          back into the Caravan
                    for one more, just one more.

From Dissolve. Copyright © 2018 by Sherwin Bitsui. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

From Dissolve. Copyright © 2018 by Sherwin Bitsui. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Sherwin Bitsui

Sherwin Bitsui

Sherwin Bitsui is a Diné from the Navajo reservation in White Cone, Arizona, and the author of Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press, 2009).

by this poet

poem

He was there-- before the rising action rose to meet this acre cornered by thirst, before birds swallowed bathwater and exploded in midsentence, before the nameless began sipping the blood of ravens from the sun’s knotted atlas. He was there, sleeping with one eye clamped tighter than the other, he looked, when

poem

Mother thought:
First we will run, then we will walk.
She asked, “Do we ramble when we speak in tongues?”

Her lack of supervision made this happen.

The dusk, the dawn, everything in between: a mistake.
The morning,
her aching tooth,
the shovel dulled in daylight—

poem

In a cornfield at the bottom of a sandstone canyon,
wearing the gloves of this song tightly over closed ears;
the bursting sun presses licks of flame
into our throats swelling with ghost dogs
nibbling on hands that roped off our footprints
keeping what is