Tradesman as Poet

These two poems emerged out of Joe Enzweiler’s “Tradesman as Poet” workshop. The first one built from some sensory associations with daily work, the second took something unexpected from the first poem to explore a new direction. I never thought the specific language of the library would work its way into my poetry but I like the result.

______________

Begin with Coffee

sweet and strong
swallow it
then
slice open
box of books
odorless
ink on paper
glue on paper
thread stitched spines

unpack them
identify them
cross their titles off
the list
tattoo them
brand them
the worlds contained,
the knowledge
paid for with public dollars,
branding begins
the journey

on verso page
a highlight reel
of the book’s soul
according to the
library of congress

steel
on a cart
now cold,
longing to be
touched
for the warm
fragrant oil of
human flesh to
flip their crisp
pages

taken
in hand
feast of eyes
upon cover art
design
typography
front and back
matter

the sound
of a first line
read aloud
language as translated
interpreted
decoded from ink
on paper
one breath
bringing back
what life
packing and shipping
has taken

a sip of coffee growing
cold before subjecting
these worlds to
the strict controlling
language of
cataloging

affixing
subject headings
name authorities
metadata
invisible yet
absolute marks
on their permanent
records
before labeling
their backbones
and distributing
their concealed strength
to shelves full of others
which have collected
scent, like experience
through travel
to places most who
borrow these books
will never confess
having taken them

find one
liberate it
leave your scent
make it yours
for four weeks
at least
then bring
it back to me
i’ll read its palm
with a barcode scanner
and erase our
institutional memory
of you having ever
used it
but not the power
you’ve gained
or the scent you’ve
left
we can’t erase that

________

Verso Page

a cataloger’s poem
a window into a language
a code
invisible ink labels fields
making
that made for
machine digestible
to humans
three to five digit prefixes
re-distributed, recycled
as page numbers

book palm
in my hand
tells me
i am printed on
acid-free
archival quality paper
i am written by sherwin bitsui (navajo)
born 1975

i am poetry

i am shapeshift

i am made possible
in part by the support of an N.E.A
endowment
a federal agency
though not the one
responsible for attempted
erasure of
my makers’ people

i am
08 07 06 05 04 6 5 4 3 2
which is to say

i am first edition
hear me roar

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