Editor’s Note: Sherwin Bitsui is a poet who grew up in the arid “painted desert” region of the Navajo reservation. He lives and works in Tucson, where he produces critically acclaimed work. (Related: Navajo Poet Sherwin Bitsui, Seer of ‘Violent Beauty in the American Landscape’)
He recently participated in Native Innovation: Indigenous American Poetry in the 21st Century, a symposium that took place in New York City from March 21 to 24. (Related: Poetic Confluence: Writers of Native Verse Explore Shared Roots)
“I am unable to pry my fingers from the ax”
I am unable to pry my fingers from the ax,
unable to utter a word
around the stone flung into his thinning mattress.
Years before, he would have named this season
by flattening a field where grasshoppers jumped into black smoke.
“No one untucked from their bodies…”
No one untucked from their bodies and wandered the streets without
knowing their clans.
Everyone planted corn in their bellies and became sunlight washing down plateaus
with deer running out of them.
The phone was ringing through it all.
The line was busy when I picked the ax
and chose the first tree to chop down.
“Sifting atlas blue from yellow body”
Sifting atlas blue from yellow body here again,
gaveling the nail of the first ship here again,
crating star maps in corn husk here again,
unfurling a blank heaven over mapped earth here again,
the time to leave here again,
to turn bone white here again,
an elk’s shadow rising behind us here again.
From Flood Song, by Sherwin Bitsui. Reprinted with permission from Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.