Poetry is a thing I cannot live well without—it is one of the ways we love ourselves best, as both readers and creators of it. I have come to count on poetry. The poetry of b: william bearhart teaches me something about my easy-to-hurt heart and this unreasonable world. When I read his poems, I feel: Yes, pain, and also love. The native body, like any brown body, deserves to be loved, is capable of loving, has in it the capacity for tenderness, desire, and pleasure in a way that literature has often denied it. In “I Cast It Away, My Body:” and the other poems in this sample of his work, bearhart leads readers to the war grounds many of us wander as we attempt to recognize our bodies and lives as beautiful, even joyful, though flawed and aching. His speaker’s tenderness—for a brother, for a father, for a people—moves into and beyond the prescribed native body until it is cast away. The people in his poems are freed into the new and ancient bodies of a dragon, the earth, a dandelion, a sunflower that is also a lion. True, bearhart’s images of darkness are as infinite as the night, as the universe even. True, also, that his images of light are equally immeasurable and unyielding, such as the net which almost hangs a psychiatric patient or the welding arc in an auto shop. Yes, darkness, bearhart’s poems say, but also and always light

—Natalie Diaz

I Cast It Away, My Body:

          after Georgia O’Keeffe’s First Drawing of Blue Lines, 1916

Because two brothers make a body where none existed
God drew two bodies as one went crooked
There is a war between us. And I am losing
My brother, fabulous night panther & copper-horned
Struck by lightning, electric blue: two lines
My father pulls two ribs and one snaps into angles
In the waiting room, a body begins to fold in on itself
A body begins to pull a breathing tube from out of itself
There is a war between us. And I am losing
My brother, all copper feathers and dragon tail, chosen
In the mud of a battlefield, you’ll find my heart
Buried in the soft red clay, my body
Broke and anchored to this earth, a bolt
Jettisoned, my brother is my father’s first son

      *The title is taken from an Ojibwe war poem

Heavy-headed Sunflower

          after Dana Levin’s “Field”

You watch from the window
     as I run to a patch of sunflowers
Or maybe I am running out of the house, around the garage, into a patch of   
            when I run into a lion
Beautiful yellow petals,
            lush golden mane,
                        inflorescence of a jaw, unhinged,
                                               blooming toward a cloudless blue sky
An annulus of yellow teeth,
            a ring of yellow flame burning around the neck,
                                               corona of eclipse
We’re confrontation of sun and moon
     standing in the window
of this birch skin house,
    me, a sunflower, neck bent and heavy-headed
Can you see the seeds being shook from this jaundiced eye that never blinks?
Or are you closing the shutters, do you think it is rain?

Psych Ward Visitation Hour

For 7 days and 7 nights, I’ve been shooting free throws
           The doctor said I needed focus
There is no net because some guy tried hanging himself from it
           But the moonlight betrayed him
In the courtyard where we sit, a dandelion grows
           I see you’re uncomfortable. Ignore these
blood-brick walls, cemented ground, nurse station window
          There’s forgiveness here. And I need to apologize
You’re seeing me in these weed-green scrubs, bone-cloth robe
           I unscrewed the roof from our home
                       swallowed all the memories
Did I tell you the cops wrote “superficial cuts” in their report?
          They didn’t understand when I said
I needed something red. They didn’t understand when I said
           I needed to paint my chest vermillion
I’m scared to go home. Have I told you that?
           I’ve always been
I keep having a nightmare where my hands grow into copper antlers
           I keep having this nightmare where I hold
                       a dandelion in one hand, a robin in the other
I made you something during craft hour. A paint-by-numbers thing
          Two deer in a winter forest full of birch trees
                       Look, a tiny spot of orange. Hunter orange
Blaze orange. See the buck? His antlers are still velvet
          See how strong he’s standing?      No, wait
                       his right front leg is soft on the ground.       No
He’s not standing, he’s kneeling. Only,
          He’s not kneeling
                       He’s fallen. Notice
There’s only one deer now and he’s still
          His tongue juts from the corner of his mouth
                       His eyes are focused on me
Wait, his head is missing. The antlers are gone.  Everything
          Is gone. There’s a bright streak
                       of red screaming across the snow 
There are only shadows now and boot prints. There’s only snow
          I made you something during craft hour
                       A cheap paint-by-numbers rip-off of O’Keeffe
A forest of birch trees but the math of it all didn’t make sense
         So I painted the numbers blank, then left
                       I couldn’t focus so I went and shot free throws
I thought about the man who tried hanging himself
         How afraid he must have been about going home
                      That dandelion is his ghost. His head
A thousand yellow florets, burning. The sun
         Never felt so good. I’m glad you’re here.

When the night unravels this night becomes

a thread of moon undressed
             between cotton sheets my body undressed & compressed
                          beneath your shadow
your shadow in the auto shop’s locked-door backroom
             pants around ankles                           light blasting from arc weld
I shut my eyes and count asteroids in the night.
I sigh Dear sky, find some other place to fall
12-year-olds in lilac bush      whispering big bangs
             soft bloom of petals              now knocked loose, they fall
behind the movie theater after TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze,
                         we’re surrounded by stonewashed, cuffed jeans tapering
                         toward the center of the universe, explosion
now dust settles,
Challenger explodes all over the television
I’m eight and naked in a closet
            trying on my mother’s vintage prom dresses
a thread of yellow tucked into my Hanes
            because I can’t make sense of this mess in my head
and I am four years old
            in my sister’s pink tulle tutu and much-too-large tights
                       dancing in the kitchen with the grace of a drunk
Dear universe,