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 pouch filling with photographed sand. No language but its rind crackling in the past tense. • Tearing apart cloud names — pierced fog commands: douse the inferno’s ribs with opaque forgetting; clip dawn from the book’s dusk, unfasten the song’s empty auditorium over a garden of mute foals. Tearing apart fog names — pierced cloud sings: let them shriek from their hinges, let them slice their gills open with flint knives and circle their ghosts as frog-skinned antelope, let them drag their legs over a trail anchored to a ladder that has soaked up blood since land began crawling out of anthills. • Slipping into free fall, we drip-pattern: the somewhere parts, our shoulders dissolving in somewhere mud. The arcing sun whistles across the mask’s abalone brow, its blurring pouts into a forest chirping from a lake’s bite marks stamped vertically on this map’s windowsill. Kneeling our thoughts on ellipses evaporating from ollas of fragrant wet clay — we saddle the drowning’s slippery rim.
This is an excerpt from the book, Dissolve. I studied with Sherwin Bitsui at IAIA. I learned so much from him about the craft of poetry, and how to become a careful reader and editor of my own work. I also studied his work as a MFA student, and when you really examine what it is he is doing on the page you can become lost for hours. I greatly admire his work. His voice is in my head when I edit and sculpt poems on the page. Sherwin was one of the first people I told about my Madison Poet Laureateship. I owe much to him.
Sherwin Bitsui, a Diné (Navajo) from the Navajo Reservation in White Cone, Arizona, received an AFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts Creative Writing Program. He is the author of the poetry collections Shapeshift (2003) and Flood Song (2009).
Steeped in Native American culture, mythology, and history, Bitsui’s poems reveal the tensions in the intersection of Native American and contemporary urban culture. His poems are imagistic, surreal, and rich with details of the landscape of the Southwest. Flood Song is a book-length lyric sequence that explores the traditions of Native American writing through postmodern fragment and stream of consciousness.