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.
* * * * *
Shapeshift (2003) and Flood Song (2009). The above poem is included in the former. Bitsui graduated with an AFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. He has received a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship, an American Book Award, a Native Arts and Culture Foundation Arts Fellowship, a PEN Open Book Award, and a Truman Capote Creative Writing Fellowship. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.