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Arts & Culture 

Poems by Sherwin Bitsui

Photo by Ungelbah Davila

Renowned poet and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University Sherwin Bitsui shares two poems for you to read.

In fall 2019, acclaimed poet Sherwin Bitsui joined Northern Arizona University’s MFA Creative Writing program as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing. Originally from White Cone, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, Bitsui is the author of three collections of poetry, Dissolve (Copper Canyon, 2018), Flood Song (Copper Canyon), and Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press). He is Diné of the Todí­ch’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tlizí­laaní (Many Goats Clan) and holds an AFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts Creative Writing Program and a BA from University of Arizona in Tucson. His recent honors include a 2011 Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship and a 2011 Native Arts and Culture Foundation Arts Fellowship. He is also the recipient of the 2010 PEN Open Book Award, an American Book Award, and a Whiting Writers Award. Bitsui has published his poems in Narrative, Black Renaissance Noir, American Poet, The Iowa Review, LIT, and elsewhere.

Bitsui will serve as a final judge for the 2021 James Welch Prize, a judge for the 2021 Colorado Prize for Poetry, and a member of the judging panel for the 2021 PEN/Voelker Award for Poetry Collection. He also is the 2021 guest poetry editor for the Vermont College of Fine Arts journal Hunger Mountain.

[They inherit a packet of earth]

BY SHERWIN BITSUI

They inherit a packet of earth

hear its coins clank in a tin box

push them aside

reap thick strands of night from thinning black hair.

They climb the staircase clenching branches of pens filled with ducks’ blood

and follow the butcher’s bed into this room—

goose feathers thorning out of their eyes.

They promise to never look down again

down is just a speck of globe dust

just coins clanking in the tin box.

Sherwin Bitsui, “[They inherit a packet of earth]” from Flood Song. Copyright © 2009 by Sherwin Bitsui. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

River

BY SHERWIN BITSUI

When we river,

blood fills cracks in bullet shells,

oars become fingers scratching windows into dawn,

and faces are stirred from mounds of mica.

I notice the back isn’t as smooth anymore,

the river crests at the moment of blinking;

its blood vessels stiffen and spear the drenched coat of flies

collecting outside the jaw.

Night slows here,

the first breath held back,

clenched like a tight fist in the arroyo under shattered glass.

But we still want to shake the oxygen loose from flypaper,

hack its veins,

divert its course,

and reveal its broken back,

the illusion of a broken back.

Sherwin Bitsui, “River” from Shapeshift. Copyright © 2003 by Sherwin Bitsui. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press. This material is protected from unauthorized downloading and distribution.

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Photo credit: Ungelbah Davila