Flood Song

I sensed the knife in your past,
its sharp edge shanked from the canyon stream—
a silver trickle between the book jacket,
 peeled open inside a diabetic mouth.

The waters of my clans
flash flooded—
I fell from the white of its eyes—
our fathers had no children to name their own
no baby’s cry to place between argument and arguments.

The commercial flashed a blue path
across the lakes of our veins
the bluest glint, a rock in the ear
told our tongues entwined,

that I was reaching for the corn field inside you,
that I was longing to outlive this compass
pointing toward my skull
gauzed inside this long terrible whisper

damp in a desert canyon,
white-washed by the ache of  fog lights
reaching 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 astonishing.

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 PoetThe Iowa ReviewFrank (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.

Copper Canyon Press is a nonprofit publisher that believes poetry is vital to language and living. Since 1972, the Press has published poetry exclusively and has established an international reputation for its commitment to authors, editorial acumen, and dedication to the poetry audience. As the preeminent independent publisher of poetry, Copper Canyon Press fosters the work of emerging, established, and world-renowned poets for an expanding audience. Copper Canyon Press publishes new collections of poetry by both revered and emerging American poets, translations of classical and contemporary work from many of the world’s cultures, re-issues of out-of-print poetry classics, anthologies, and prose books about poetry. Click here to visit the Copper Canyon website.

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