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PoetrySnaps! Erik Bitsui: Today on the Rez

Poet, writer and musician Erik Bitsui, from Blue Gap, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation
Courtesy Erik Bitsui
Poet, writer and musician Erik Bitsui is from Blue Gap, Arizona on the Navajo Nation

The latest guest poet in KNAU's series PoetrySnaps! is Erik Bitsui, from Blue Gap, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation. His first book is set for release later this month. Mosh Pit Etiquette Volume One: Secrets of a 21st Century Navajo Headbanger, is a mixture of heavy metal, humor and Diné tradition. Bitsui says it took him 30 years to write it. Here he is reading an abridged poem from the book entitled, Today on the Rez.

Erik Bitsui:

I think we are all set on Earth to share stories. We are living stories ourselves, and we are walking, breathing poetry. So, I feel it's my duty as a sentient being to record my words on a page to share with everyone else. I hope that in 200 years someone will pick up my book and read what it was like being a Native American, a Navajo, in the 21st century. That is my drive.

Today on the Rez (abridged for Poetry Snaps)

When I went to school, I smelled like smoke and mutton that’s because we butchered at my grandma’s house
The silly janitor at school said to me, “Hey, son, you smell like a rich Navajo”
No one laughed, just him
Then he said it again and laughed some more all by himself

Grandma says she likes the nursing home now and she doesn’t cry for her sheep anymore

 At Shinali’s house, the ground was too frozen for the kináaldá cake. We used axes and pickaxe and everything to dig that pit
We worked hard and it got all muddy and messy
My mum even gave us hot coffee and hot water to drink
It was hard work but, that whole time, we just laughed because the guys told old Navajo jokes I never heard before
Even Nali Man was there in his wheelchair smiling and listening to us
At the end, my mum fed us breakfast with hot bread
That cake came out pretty good too

Cousin came over to Másání house with his new white girlfriend. The white girlfriend wore sandals, turquoise earrings and a cowboy hat. She kept saying, “UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley. UC Berkeley” but I don’t know what that means
I guess she’s OK but she didn’t eat any of Másání food’s because of something called “gluten”

Grandma keeps talking about buying a new truck
Grandma likes those car people by the road with their new vehicles and those red and yellow triangle flags
The last time we stopped, they gave us free hot dogs and pop
A white man in a cowboy hat and sunglasses smiled at us and shook our hands
Then he said to me, “Ya-tah-hey, Shi Buddy”
Grandma laughed and laughed
Now she wants a new truck and she can’t even drive

I woke up smelling cedar smoke
Mum said she had a bad dream
Later on, Aunty came to our house
The two of them talked for a long time
Then Aunty took her to the casino

I finally found my tádídíín bag
I thought I lost it seven years ago
It was in my old college things
I was so happy I said a quick prayer with it
In the morning when it was still dark, I went out to pray with it again

The car didn’t start again this morning so me and my dad hitchhiked to school but it was OK because I got to school in time

Grandma cooked all day but no one came home to eat
Grandpa just sat on the couch and listened to KTNN

About the poet:

Erik Bitsui is a Navajo poet, writer and musician. He earned an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. His first book, Mosh Pit Etiquette, Volume One: Secrets of a 21st Century Navajo Headbanger, is set for release later this month, with a launch party November 14, 2023, at Uptown Pubhouse in Flagstaff.

About the host:
Steven Law is the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps! He is a poet, essayist, storyteller, and the author of Polished, a collection of poems about exploring the Colorado Plateau by foot and by raft.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

PoetrySnaps! airs the first and third Friday of each month.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.