The sentence begins, & here I am again thinking of distance. Every movement is the body’s stretch from one shadow to another, from one lifetime to another. I live here on the other side of the world as if I have been telling myself that I could be anything. I could be anything, right? But your shadow merged into mine years ago, decades ago, even centuries ago. I am here under a bridge in Nakasu with a painted message that translates to Let’s make the mutual effort to keep the water clean, asking myself What did that dream last night mean?


Was I ever made clean? Do you remember how you left me here on earth? There are times when I pick up the phone like an amputated hand: When are you coming home? But is it still you I’m asking?


Every morning, just before I open my eyes, your outline claims mine like the shape of a nation, & I remember how the smudges of dark sticking under my body are simply the sky failing to pass through me. The sun has been waiting to flood my mouth this entire time.


She is telling me to sing these verses I have no answer for. Here between us are these words pressed onto this mass of off-white pages, bound by its cracked spine. They are a series of grace-given bodies inside a scorebook in my grandmother’s hands on a Sunday morning only miles from her house. She nudges me,

Louder—to sing in praise of a god whose ghost shall light my narrowed path through life. In Sunday school, where the kids know the answers & all these meanings & characters I have no image for—they lock me in the closet, laughing. I hear them still. They laugh because they are imagining my skin burning off into something clean. My lice, burrowed through my gleaming black follicles, finally dropping to the floor like casualties across a battlefield of snow. Each little life waiting to burst with my blood.


“Why are you so far from saving me?” – Psalm 22


The water under the bridge of this newer city ripples along like drunken tongues hungry for flesh. I stand & catch my image. Why must I look down at myself to see how dead you are inside me?


I turn the outside faucet on & let the hose run. I cry to myself behind her house. I never told her how they entered me without ever touching me. How they said I would burn & burn until god knows when. They had already imagined how my skeleton would look when charred to something palpable, something crushed & changed in their hands. We are always told to never cry in the dark. I imagine the backyard is full of lanterns I can turn on & off & on.


c’éewc’ew sounds like whispering, a doubled, glottalized burst of air just behind the teeth, a syncopation

of jaw, bone, & breath. Ghosts have always known the best ways to enter us. That’s why they can find the tunneled wound of the heart when we are most open.


  • The subject of the sentence can be unnamable as a father.


Despite my failures in making you human on evenings I remember, the least I can do is to turn you into a god, though lost, with arms wide enough to hold yourself. This is all I’ll ask of you today.


I will stand up soon & walk under city-brightened alleys, but for now I am still staring into the water that touches me & the river I hear in my dreams—if only to make something possible of the orange glitches forming on this darkening surface. Hey, tell me something beautiful before you leave, please?


Is it autumn on your side of the world yet? łax̣ łax̣ is the only sound I hear this evening. łax̣ łax.̣ I stare into a small cluster of leaves broken with wind & made to thirst for earth until your hand emerges. This is the world I was given: ghosts returning to flesh & insisting I live.


The first time I recognize myself—the beauty of holding the horrors of history. I am running into a field of skulls smeared in evaporating rose water. In each rests a hole bored to the width of a bullet, a life, warmed with smoke. I pick up a skull the size of my own & remember its voice. I am something seen right now. Am I only beautiful before such absence?


wac’áaskim kike’étki wáaq’is / ’iin wic’éeyu translates to Wash me in the blood. I will live. So wash me clean.


I step once like the dulled note of a piano key, & flowers drenched in sundown burst from their slack necks. I stay until night when these flowers return to their homes, back into the polished holes inside these heads.


She is teaching me to bathe myself in the river. I take the bar of Dial soap, like the wrist of a future lover, & rub its wax into my small chest. I am seven years old & fixed to this earthy scene by speckled gleams reflected off the back of this clear running river now becoming my grandmother’s voice. I hear it. Disembodied almost, it sings “Let It Shine.” I think summer dress. Goodwill sandals. I have only ever wanted to say pik’úunpe teq’elúuse, ne’é? I never once think: poem or essay or god, let me live. I have no urge to think citizenship or remains stored in a warehouse freezer or 12 Stat. 957. I smell stones half- lapped with the greened, slick scent of this land. She dips my head back & lets a braid of water cascade into my forehead & through my hair.


Tell me, why on earth is prayer built into human beings? Someone tell me, please.

They will call my body a fiction, fictions, or an –ism of some sort, but I will hope to be nothing in their imaginations. I will, I swear, name my unborn daughter after something so lovely, I will think of temples built from language pouring like wetted daylight off a tongue. She will bend me back to the truth of being in my own blood-honest skin. She will release me from the spine of myself & into joy. I take another step in this field of terrorized bones & bloom into a wreckage colored like the garden at full blossom— larkspur unfurled, bouquets of balsamroot, sagebrush buttercup shredded with blown thistle—that my grandmother is still tending.


I recall yóosyoospe meaning in the blue, meaning the waters holding what it can of the sky gorged on sunlight. I still hear all these people in their Sunday Best around me saying c’ixc’íxpe meaning in the grass, meaning a field, meaning a country where all of us grew with bones heaped upon bones telling us Get up. Crawl out of here. Go & live. Here is your body. Now go. But I still have kúunk’u wax̣kúunk’u in my throat, these decades later.


The city lights imprint against towers I forget the names to. I taste rust on my breath & return to the feel of a bullet lodged into the back corner of my mouth. The river looks clean when dyed by night. This dark. This side of the world I am running towards, which is to say that I am running towards anything I can call home.

I am making my thin bedding tonight. I am here.


Here, my vertebrae kiss yours. Here, the walls appear the very same. All white. Smudged with my failed conversations. Here, I am crying—the lights turned on—because the sounds of gunshots are nowhere near me. The dry flowers on the sill, left by a lover who’ll never return, vanish, & I lie & watch the ceiling become the scene of two men holding each other until they break into the hands of clocks. A roomful of ticking buries me under another dream.


I discover this: even in the dream, my heart thuds against the bone-cage of my life. pím is another word I remember, how we never know if it’s the sound of something handmade thudding against a flat surface or a corpse reaching impact with the weight of its world torn down by gravity at last. But everyone is here, alive. We smell of my grandmother’s hands.


We are talking to each other, learning each other’s forgotten languages. I see you. You are younger than me now, full of breath & blood, & you don’t recognize me, which is a true, private joy like knowing that the flesh & bone will structure something so gorgeous you ache to be alive. You smile even as the rose- tinted melt drips from the corners of your mouth & the world returns to the world.


Let me take you to see the flowers, my boy

Let me take you to see the flowers—


Let me take you to see—


Let me take—


Let me—




To be this sound vanishing between the bruised cracks of your teeth is the closest I can ever be to you.


It’s autumn this morning, isn’t it? Answer me. It is every morning. It’s the end of October in my lungs today. I run the shower in this little place I live & breathe in the steam. The múuyn & múułe of mint & orange disappear. Good morning I say to the world in a language not my own.


Dear boy in the mirror: You are beautiful enough to carry this face of yours. To stretch it over the skull history made of you. Before this you there was another you.


You will walk out of this purpled field the same person. I promise.

Michael Wasson is the author of Swallowed Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2021) and This American Ghost (YesYes Books, 2017). A 2019 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellow and 2018 NACF National Artist Fellow in Literature, he is from the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho.