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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.


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


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—
all digging fire from shallowing rivers.


Translated into English from Diné by the poet.




Amá yaa nitséskees:
Ałtse’ ałghaadiit’aash aado hazhóó’ógo yiit’ash doo.
“T’áá’ádzaagóósh yaadeeltí ahił hwilne’ó?” nihiłné.

Aadóó nihigi’deezį´į´’ígó `ahóót’įįd,
`i`ii`ą´  hayííłką´
t’áá `ał sto’ bita’ doo yá’á’hót’ééh da,
abíní biwoo’naaniigá’
jį´į´go  łeezh bee hahalkaadi doo deení’igíí bik’i’dindíín łéh,
t’áá `ałtso
tó áłchį´į´dígó niló˛ó˛ yits’ą´ą´doo’ko˛`hadéézką´’.


From Shapeshift by Sherwin Bitsui. © 2003 Sherwin Bitsui. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

From Shapeshift by Sherwin Bitsui. © 2003 Sherwin Bitsui. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona 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

There’s a way out—
walk the dirt road into cerulean dawn, 
tap the windows of cars and trucks 
rattling down highway 77 
with clear fingerprints, 
and clasp the nine eyes of the desert 
shut at the intersection of then and now. 

Ask: will this whirlwind 
connect to that one,

On limbs of slanted light
painted with my mind’s skin color,
I step upon black braids,
oil-drenched, worming
from last month’s orphaned mouth.

Winged with burning—
I ferry them
               from my filmed eyes, wheezing.

Scalp blood in my footprints—
my buckskin

I haven’t _________
since smoke dried to salt in the lakebed,
since crude oil dripped from his parting slogan,
the milk’s sky behind it,
birds chirping from its wig.

Strange, how they burrowed into the side of this rock.
Strange . . . to think,
they "belonged"
and stepped through the flowering of a future