reviewed by Maya Phillips
Dissolve, Sherwin Bitsui’s third poetry collection, is divided into two sections, the first: a two-page poem called “The Caravan,” in which the speaker encounters a young man beaten down and broken against the backdrop of the city, where “neon embers / stripe the asphalt’s blank page / where this story pens itself nightly.” But we don’t remain in the city for long; “The Caravan” serves as a prelude to the main section of the book, the extended lyrical poem “Dissolve,” which features sudden, abrupt scene changes marked by kaleidoscopic descriptions that render everything in vibrant color. Bitsui plays with obscurity, ducking in and out of images that are grounded with spare moments of realization: “Rented from a shepherd of doves / we return replenished with categories. // We are husbands to razed hillsides; wives to drowned bridges.” He presents a kind of Dalí-esque portrait of the natural landscape where a “field of moonlight” is “double-parked in snowmelt” as it “absorbs coyote fur” and “amber clouds of horn marrow” are “crushed sideways into a toothache.” The world through which the speaker moves takes many forms, as the night does, when it’s “hunched over the sleeping” and “wears / a garden’s dust cloud” then becomes a monstrous, haunting figure with a “gaseous” head that metamorphoses into “liquid.” The sections of Dissolve are similarly loose, liquid as the mind that wanders casually through realms of memory and contemplation: “The mind’s wind / unlaces hammering / over pixelated heel bones / clasped to the nerve endings / of my fingers’ ghosts.” Reservation life, Navajo history, and the larger history of Native Americans in the United States come together in visceral, intuitive poetry marked by a personal and collective cultural experience.
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2018.