Header image  
    Table of Contents

Sherwin Bitsui

Our Tribute to this Stunning Second Collection
The excerpt from Sherwin Bitsui's Flood Song (2009)


“Ná ho kos, ná ho kos, ná ho kos”
Rex Lee Jim



Flood Song





I bite my eyes shut between these songs.
They are the sounds of blackened insect husks
                                       folded over elk teeth in a tin can,
they are gull wings fattening on cold air
                     flapping in a paper sack on the chlorine-stained floor.
They curl in corners, spiked and black-thatched,
stomp across the living-room ceiling,
pull our hair one strand at a time from electric sockets
and paint our stems with sand in the kitchen sink.
They speak a double helix,
zigzag a tree trunk,
bark the tips of its leaves with cracked amber—
        they plant whispers where shouts incinerate into hisses.



Stepping through the drum’s vibration,
I hear gasoline
           trickle alongside the fenced-in panorama
of the reed we climb in from
and slide my hands into shoes of ocean water.

I step onto the gravel path of swans paved across lake scent,
wrap this blank page around the exclamation point slammed between us.

The storm lying outside its fetal shell
folds back its antelope ears
and hears its heart pounding through powdery earth
underneath dancers flecking dust from their ankles to thunder into rain.



I am unable to pry my fingers from the ax,
        unable to utter a word
                   without Grandfather’s accent rippling
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.



A crow snaps beak over and over again:
the past is a blurry splotch of red crosshatched with neon light;
      on the drive south,
                          windows pushed down,
                you scoop pellets of canned air
           and ocean across sand dunes,
                across the waning lick of moonlight on the dashboard
                to crease the horizon
                         between petals of carved snow.



Bluebirds chirp icy rocks from their stomachs
and crash,
           wings caked heavy
with the dark mud of a gunmetal sky,
to the earth’s bandages
            shivering with cold spells and convulsions
                       in the market
                                  underneath an avalanche of apples.



A redtail hawk scrapes the sandstone wall with its beak.

A shower of sparks skate across the morning sky.

You think this bottle will open a canyon wall
         and light a trail
                    trampled by gloved hands
as you inhale earth, wind, water,
through the gasoline nozzle
            at trail’s end,
                      a flint spear driven into the key switch.

You think you can return to that place
where your mother held her sleeves above the rising tides
saying, “We are here again
                 on the road covered with television snow;
                           we are here again
                                the song has thudded.”



Bison horns twist into the sides of trains
   winding through the broth-filled eyes of hens
       squawking from the icebox;

shock-coils from the jet engine’s roar
         erupt from the memory of splintered eagle-wing bone.

Pinned down with icicles on the loosening floor,
   an alarm clock wails from speaker box to speaker box
     probing for hornet nests inside the tourmaline seeds of dawn;

its scalp scalpelled alongside what is “ours”;
    its memory of bone axes x-ed out with chrome engine paint.



Flicking off the light switch.
Lichen buds the curved creases of a mind
pondering the mesquite tree’s dull ache
          as it gathers its leaves around clouds of spotted doves—
                   calling them in rows of twelve back from their winter sleep.

Doves’ eyes black as nightfall
shiver on the foam coast of an arctic dream
         where whale ribs
                  clasp and fasten you to a language of shifting ice.

Seeing into those eyes
you uncoil its telephone wires,
gather its inaudible lions with plastic forks,
tongue their salty ribbons,
          and untie their weedy stems from your prickly fingers.

You stop to wonder what like sounds like
when held under glacier water,
how Ná ho kos feels
under the weight of all that loss.



I cover my eyes with electrical wires,
see yellow dawn eclipse Stop signs,
        turn green and screech into phosphorescence.

Each flickering finger:
a memory of a flashing yellow sign,
blinks between charcoal sheets of monsoon rain
then slices through the thawing of our hunger
with the cracked eaves of a shattered house.

Its autobiographical muscle—
stringing trees into a forest, convulses,
only to be flattened under its metallic leaves
and sold as bricks for its basement of fire.



What land have you cast from the blotted-out region of your face?

What nation stung by watermarks was filmed out of extinction and brought forth
                  resembling frost?
What offspring must jump through the eye of birth to be winked at when covered with
                 brick sweat?

What ache piled its planks on the corner pier, now crumbles onto motionless water,
                 sniffed at by forest smoke?

What makes this song a string of beads seized by cement cracks when the camera climbs
                 through the basement window—winter clouds coiling through its speckled

What season cannot locate an eye in the dark of the sound of the sun gyrating into red
                 ocher after I thought you noticed my language was half wren, half pigeon
                 and, together, we spoke a wing pattern on the wall that was raised to keep
                 “us” out, there where “calling” became “culling,” “distance” distanced,
                 in a mere scrape of enamel on
                 yellow teeth?

What father woke, turned over his wife, she didn’t want to, but he pushed
                 until the baby leapt through, now, now, now, strummed into a chorus of
                 burn marks on ceilings where police sirens fruit magpie skulls on trees of
                 monsoon lightning?

What, what, what—is how the song chimed in wilderness.




A whip’s leather scent flails camera shutters
open to the softened teeth of masked dancers—

their salty sweat swells loose bone stirrups
tethering our feet to coils of lightning
wafting from under a mane of winter clouds.

Pressing a handful of chipped house paint
against their smeared faces,
you say:
“we need this color of wing’s blood
in the dark of our bodies crouching away from thirst”
then pluck with a dull knife:
teeth from rocks gnawing
into the memory of the belt’s hiss
shoved here and there,
          squabbling through the wall
                     stretching out between us.



They lather lung milk over the television’s white backdrop,
push blackened wicks into the whites of their mothers’ downcast eyes.

The width of their hue
itching through weathered boot soles
blackens their snared breath with coal dust.

Their wood-grain hands cascade West—
          sharp and final as the train tracks
                    upon which we cut loose these saddles.





by permission of Copper Canyon Press
Port Townsend, Washington
Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org