The Caravan

Sherwin Bitsui

The city’s neon embersstripe the asphalt’s blank pagewhere this story pens itself nightly;where ghosts weave their oily hairinto his belt of ice,dress him in pleated shadowsand lay him fetalon the icy concrete—the afterbirth of sirens glistening over him.We drain our headlightson his scraped foreheadand watch the December moontwo-step across his waxen eyes;his mouth’s shallow pond—        a reflecting pool        where his sobs leak into my collar.One more, just one more, he whispers,as he thaws back into the shape of nihitstilíbruised knees thorning against his chest.We steal away,our wheels moanthrough sleet and ash.Death places second, third,and fourth behind us.At home on the Reservation:Father sifts dried cedar leavesover glowing embers,Mother, hoveringabove cellphone light, awaits:                    He’s okay,                    never went out,                    watched a movie instead.But tonight,my speech has knivesthat quiver at the ellipsesof neon Budweiser signsblinking through the fogged windshield,and I text:            I’ve only rescued a sliver of him,            he’s only twenty-five            and he smells like blood and piss,            his turquoise bracelet snatched for pawn,            by the same ghost who traded his jacket            for a robe of snow and ice,            before inviting him            back into the Caravan                        for one more, just one more.

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Sherwin Bitsui (Diné) is originally from White Cone, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. He is Diné of the Todich’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tl’izilani (Many Goats Clan). He is the author of Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press, 2003), Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), and Dissolve (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). His honors include a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship and a Native Arts & Culture Foundation Arts Fellowship. He is also the recipient of a 2010 PEN Open Book Award, an American Book Award, and a Whiting Writers Award. In addition to teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts, he joins the faculty at the MFA in Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University in the fall 2019.

Drawing upon Navajo history and enduring tradition, Sherwin Bitsui leads us on a treacherous, otherworldly passage through the American Southwest. Fluidly shape-shifting and captured by language that functions like a moving camera, Dissolve is urban and rural, past and present in the haze of the reservation. Bitsui proves himself to be one of this century’s most haunting, raw, and uncompromising voices.

"The formal integrity of Bitsui’s lines enables seamless transitions from the momentary to the timeless, from each disorienting and dazzling idea to the next...Bitsui’s exhilarating poetics lay in the blur of time, the slow and sure slide from ghostlike ideas into haunted-looking things, in constant erasure and redrawing: 'No language but its rind / crackling in the past tense.'"
Publishers Weekly

"Bitsui’s poetry returns things to their basic elements and voice in a flowing language rife with illuminating images. A great reading experience for those who like serious and innovative poetry." ―Library Journal

"...The only way to read Bitsui is to trust his poetic momentum and embrace his brilliant work."
Booklist

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