I sensed the knife in your past,its sharp edge shanked from the canyon stream—a silver trickle between the book jacket,nihízaad peeled open inside a diabetic mouth.
The waters of my clansflash flooded—I fell from the white of its eyes—our fathers had no children to name their ownno baby’s cry to place between argument and arguments.
The commercial flashed a blue pathacross the lakes of our veinsthe bluest glint, a rock in the eartold our tongues entwined,
that I was reaching for the corn field inside you,that I was longing to outlive this compasspointing toward my skullgauzed inside this long terrible whisper
damp in a desert canyon,white-washed by the ache of fog lightsreaching to unravel my combed hair.
by Sherwin Bitsui
© Sherwin Bitsui and Copper Canyon Press, 2010.
'Flood Song' is taken from the book Flood Song, and reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Notes courtesy of Copper Canyon:
“I bite my eyes shut between these songs.” So begins Flood Song,
a concentrated, interweaving, painterly sequence in which Native
tradition scrapes against contemporary urban life. In his second book, Sherwin Bitsui
intones landscapes real and imagined, populated with the wrens, winds,
and reeds of the high desert and constructed from the bricks and
gasoline of the city. Reverent to his family’s indigenous traditions
while simultaneously indebted to European modernism and surrealism,
Bitsui is at the forefront of a younger generation of Native writers.
His poems are highly imagistic and constantly in motion, drawing as
readily upon Diné (Navajo) myths, customs, and medicine songs as they do
contemporary language and poetics. “I map a shrinking map,” Bitsui
writes, a map tribal and individual, elemental and modern — and utterly
Sherwin Bitsui is originally from White Cone, Arizona, on the Navajo
Reservation. He is Diné of the Tódích’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born
for the Tlizílaaní (Many Goats Clan). He holds an A.F.A. from the
Institute of American Indian Arts Creative Writing Program and is
currently completing his studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
He is the recipient of a 2005 Lannan Foundation Residency in Marfa,
Texas, and the Whiting Writers Award in 2006. He also works for literacy
programs that bring poets and writers into public schools where there
are Native American student populations. Bitsui has published his poems
in American Poet, The Iowa Review, Frank (Paris), LIT, and elsewhere. His poems were also anthologized in Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century. Flood Song is the Winner of the 2010 PEN Open Book Award and a 2010 American Book Award. You can read more about Bitsui here and at his own website here, and more of his work here.
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