His wind-swirled fingertips
untangle the roots of salt water,
thorned with wrens

pecking at roans
whipping their manes
toward some new sunlight,
some new charred horse bit’s history.

Cornered into being a son
he should have never
left a snow-tipped leaf’s edge

in the hillside
where a barren cloud’s porous skull
keeps a winter house.

Coyote, open-jawed,
limp shoulder against his ear,
its silhouette: midnight blue—
            a satchel of stars
                        where its tail snaps     awake.

A knot of lung steam
behind his ribs;
a meteor charring white
over yellowing aspen;

he reaches down,
loosens shoelaces—
wind-dried roots unfurl,
his new name: seven times his height.

His knees press light to dark,
creasing them over and over
until his face smears and        fades.


Copyright © 2022 by Sherwin Bitsui. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 6, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Some of my new poems feel like paintings, so I titled this piece ‘Triptych.’ The movements in each recent poem have slowed down, contrasting the kinetic quality of my earlier book-length poems, Dissolve and Flood Song. In this image, a recurring figure (sometimes the speaker) is shown with Coyote, a trickster in Navajo culture, wounded and slumped over his shoulder, its tail snapping awake when it senses the stars it stole from the night sky. In my poems, I may have finally found this elusive figure/speaker; however, in the end, he makes ritual gestures that allow him to escape again.”
Sherwin Bitsui