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From "Dissolve"

Sherwin Bitsui
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.
Madison Poet Laureate, writer, editor, activist and humanist
Why I chose this poem: 

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.

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Cover of Dissolve