The Caravan

Sherwin Bitsui

The city’s neon embers
stripe the asphalt’s blank page
where this story pens itself nightly;
where ghosts weave their oily hair
into his belt of ice,
dress him in pleated shadows
and lay him fetal
on the icy concrete—
the afterbirth of sirens glistening over him.

We drain our headlights
on his scraped forehead
and watch the December moon
two-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 nihitstilí
bruised knees thorning against his chest.

We steal away,
our wheels moan
through sleet and ash.

Death places second, third,
and fourth behind us.

At home on the Reservation:
Father sifts dried cedar leaves
over glowing embers,
Mother, hovering
above cellphone light, awaits:
          He’s okay,
          never went out,
          watched a movie instead.

But tonight,
my speech has knives
that quiver at the ellipses
of neon Budweiser signs
blinking 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.

More by Sherwin Bitsui

Atlas

Tonight I draw a raven’s wing inside a circle
	measured a half second
		before it expands into a hand.
	I wrap its worn grip over our feet
		as we thrash against pine needles inside the earthen pot.

He sings an elegy for handcuffs,
	whispers its moment of silence
at the crunch of rush-hour traffic,
and speaks the dialect of a forklift,
	lifting like cedar smoke over the mesas
		acred to the furthest block.

Two headlights flare from blue dusk
	--the eyes of ravens peer at
Coyote biting his tail in the forklift,
	shaped like another reservation--
		another cancelled check.

One finger pointed at him,
that one--dishwasher,
he dies like this
	with emergency lights blinking though the creases of his ribbon shirt.

A light buzzed loud and snapped above the kitchen sink.
I didn’t notice the sting of the warning:
	Coyote scattering headlights instead of stars;
howling dogs silenced by the thought of the moon;
constellations rattling from the atmosphere of the quivering gourd.

How many Indians have stepped onto train tracks,
	hearing the hoofbeats of horses
	in the bend above the river
		rushing at them like a cluster of veins
scrawled into words on the unmade bed?

In the cave on the backside of a lie
	soldiers eye the birth of a new atlas,

one more mile, they say,
			one more mile.

Apparition

1.
I haven’t _________
since smoke dried to salt in the lakebed,
since crude oil dripped from his parting slogan,
the milk’s sky behind it,
birds chirping from its wig.

Strange, how they burrowed into the side of this rock.
Strange . . . to think,
they "belonged"
and stepped through the flowering of a future apparent in the rearview mirror,
visible from its orbit
around a cluster of knives in the galaxy closest to the argument.

Perhaps it was September
that did this to him,
his hostility struck the match on handblown glass,
not him,
he had nothing to do with their pulse,
when rocks swarmed over
and blew as leaves along the knife’s edge
into summer,
without even a harvest between their lies
they ignited a fire—

it reached sunlight in a matter of seconds.

2.
It is quite possible
it was the other guy
clammed inside my fist
who torched the phone book
and watched blood seep from the light socket.

Two days into leaving,
the river’s outer frond flushes worms imagined in the fire
onto the embankment of rust,
mud deep when imagination became an asterisk in the mind.

In this hue—
earth swept to the center of the eye,
pulses outward from the last acre
held to the match’s blue flame.

Mention _________,
and a thickening lump in the ozone layer
will appear as a house with its lights turned off—
radio waves tangled like antlers inside its oven,
because somewhere
in the hallway nearest thirst,
the water coursing through our clans
begins to evaporate
as it slides down our backseats—
its wilderness boiled out of our bodies.

Blankets of Bark

Point north, north where they walk
in long blankets of curled bark,
dividing a line in the sand,
smelling like cracked shell,
desert wind, river where they left you
calling wolves from the hills,
	a list of names
growling from within the whirlwind.

Woman from the north,
lost sister who clapped at rain clouds.
We were once there
holding lightning bolts
above the heads of sleeping snakes.

Woman, sister, the cave wants our skin back,
it wants to shake our legs free from salt
and untwist our hair into strands of yarn
pulled rootless from the pocket of a man
who barks when he is reminded of the setting sun.

At 5 A.M., crickets gather in the doorway,
each of them a handful of smoke,
crawling to the house of a weeping woman,
breaking rocks on the thigh of a man stretching,
ordering us to drop coins into her shadow,
saying, "There, that is where we were born."

Born with leaves under our coats,
two years of solitude,
the sky never sailed from us,
we rowed toward it,
only to find a shell,
	        a house,
		   and a weeping woman.